Bharti Airtel (India, South Asia) CEO Gopal Vittal, has warned the company’s 320 million-plus subscribers of increased number of cyber frauds, amid the massive increase in online transactions during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns in various parts of the country. In a letter to Airtel subscribers on Thursday, Vittal highlighted the modus operandi being adopted by fraudsters and also drew attention to cyber frauds related to digital payments. He asserted that the company is working “relentlessly” and coming out with safety features to ensure customers are not vulnerable to fraudsters. In an e-mail outreach to customers,
“With the growing second wave of the pandemic and lockdowns in various parts of the country, there has been a massive increase in online transactions. Unfortunately, there has also been a corresponding increase in cyber fraud,” Vittal said. Sounding out a warning on the kinds of fraud that users could likely face, he said that Airtel has developed an “industry first feature” that is geared towards conducting secure online transactions “without the fear of being duped by a fraudster”. “Please note that Airtel does not sell VIP numbers on the phone and will never ask you to download any third-party apps. In both instances, please immediately call 121 to confirm.
In fact, I would say when in doubt simply call 121,” Vittal advised in his mail to Airtel subscribers. Cautioning against fraudsters calling customers pretending to be Airtel employees, he said that this could be under the pretext of incomplete Know Your Customer (KYC) form. The fraudster may request the customer to install the ”Airtel Quick Support” app from the Google Play Store to allow them to help. As no such app exists on the play store, when the customer tries to install it, they are redirected to TeamViewer Quick Support App. “The TeamViewer Quick Support app allows the fraudster to remotely take over the device and accounts associated with the device. And so, if the customer does install it, they allow the fraudster into all their accounts connected to the device,” Vittal said urging users to guard against such instances. Similarly, the fraudster may call or send an SMS claiming to be from Airtel and promising highly discounted VIP numbers.
“As a part of the transaction, the fraudster requests a prepayment as a token / booking amount. Post receiving these funds, the fraudster ceases all contact with the person and becomes untraceable,” Vittal warned. Cyber frauds related to payments are also on the rise, due to the increase in digital transactions, he noted. “The fraudster calls the customer claiming to be from a bank/financial institution and asks for account details or an OTP to unblock/renew the existing bank account. The details are used to withdraw money from the customer”s bank account,” Vittal said.
The fraudsters also call the customer pretending to buy a second-hand listed product from the website, negotiate the price and ask for the customer”s UPI details to transfer money to the account. “On the customer providing the account, an SMS link is sent to the customer”s phone to approve the transaction which debits the money from the account instead of crediting,” he said. Airtel top honcho said that the company has worked relentlessly to ensure that subscribers are not vulnerable to these fraudsters. “This is why we have recently introduced an industry-first feature called `Safe Pay”,” he informed. Safe Pay provides an additional layer of security for every transaction, he added. “So before you actually make a payment, our network intelligence throws up a message asking you to confirm the transaction to the person who is trying to pull the fraud. Therefore, if you activate Airtel Safe Pay, you are not vulnerable to fraudsters. To be on Airtel Safe Pay you need to open an Airtel Payments bank account,” Vittal said.