Navigating online scams: Insights from cyber expert Dr Ananth Prabhu G

Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru (VP)

Mangaluru, Apr 25: During an exclusive talk on Daijiworld TV's 'Walkie-Talkie', Dr. Ananth Prabhu G, a distinguished cyber security expert, sheds light on online scams and preventive measures.

Dr Ananth Prabhu G emphasized the technological advancements in scams, stating, "With the increased reliance on technology post-Covid, even those unfamiliar with it were compelled to adapt. The internet, once passive, has now become highly interactive, leading many to spend endless hours scrolling. Social media algorithms tailor content to personal preferences, reinforcing this behaviour. Children now justify excessive screen time for schoolwork, and parents find it challenging to limit device usage. Just as one learns driving rules, understanding the Information Technology Act-2000 is crucial for internet users. Despite being 24 years old, the law remains unchanged. Colleges should integrate cybercrime awareness into their curriculum to empower students against scams. For instance, under Section 66C, unauthorized password use carries a penalty of up to three years in prison or a fine of Rs 1 lac. Unfortunately, many are unaware of such provisions. In Dakshina Kannada, individuals heading to the Gulf often neglect to educate their parents on the risks associated with their phones."

"Political parties invest in advertisements to sway public opinion, but they neglect raising awareness about cybercrime. Utilizing front-page ads, radio broadcasts, and social media platforms could educate the public and potentially reduce scam cases by 50%. Many fall victim to fraudulent WhatsApp groups promising financial gains, only to lose their life savings. Victims often refuse to acknowledge their role in the scam. One common mistake is downloading suspicious apps without reading terms and conditions or granting unnecessary permissions. For instance, granting SMS permissions allows advertisers to target individuals based on their bank balance, promoting products accordingly. This data is invaluable for crafting targeted algorithms.

"The apps request permissions for camera, GPS, and other functions, which are often used to display targeted advertisements. By tracking your location, these apps can tailor ads based on your needs, such as offering deals on hotels or flights in your vicinity,” he explained.

He further mentioned, "Most apps, whether banking, gaming, or others, require permissions for access. Since these apps are free, they operate based on data collected from users. This data is akin to the new oil, with these companies acting as the new oil companies. For instance, when we buy a car, GPS data captures our location, and subsequent transactions confirm our purchases. Months later, we start receiving insurance ads, and after several miles, tire ads appear. The primary goal of data science is to track individuals from birth to death, refining marketing strategies along the way."

Dr Ananth Prabhu emphasized, "The primary methods through which most scams are executed include vishing, smishing, and phishing. Scammers may contact you via email or phone, claiming that a transaction of Rs 3,00,000 has been initiated from your account and is on hold pending authentication. They then request OTPs, card numbers, and CVV numbers. In another scenario, you may receive an email stating that an elderly foreigner on their deathbed has left their entire will in your name, with a parcel on its way to your address. Subsequently, you receive a call or email alleging that customs have intercepted the parcel, and fake police or customs officers arrange a video call, posing as authorities and threatening you into giving up your valuables. Scammers have now expanded their tactics to include postal services, sending scratch cards claiming you have won a prize, with instructions to call a provided number, where they gather information. During elections, scammers may call, falsely claiming your name is missing from the voter list and providing a link to add details. Their modus operandi continues to evolve and adapt."

He elaborated, "If the police contact you and request a video call, insist on receiving an official notice, as there is no need to provide OTPs to anyone. Legitimate authorities will never ask for your credit card details, as debit cards only deduct available funds, whereas credit cards can be maxed out. Scammers may claim to have mistakenly transferred funds and ask for a reversal, a tactic employed through smishing. When making UPI payments, providing an MPIN means money will be deducted, and no PIN is required to receive funds. QR code scams are prevalent, where fraudsters overlay their QR code atop legitimate ones at shops or petrol pumps, initiating transactions before the shopkeeper realizes. Always ensure the vendor's name appears when scanning a QR code to verify legitimacy."

Dr Ananth Prabhu highlighted common scams and their avoidance strategies, stating, "One prevalent scam involves a fake online persona, typically an attractive woman, who engages individuals in conversation. Scammers gather information about the victim's social circle, then stage a video call where they undress and record the interaction to blackmail the victim. Initially, they demand small sums but escalate over time, leaving victims financially drained before seeking police intervention. Another scam centers on online loan apps, where users are enticed with small loans but encounter payment gateways manned by call center personnel, who demand immediate payment or threaten consequences. Biometrics, however, remain constant and are exploited in banking transactions, where Aadhaar card numbers and biometrics alone are deemed sufficient, creating vulnerability. Even SIM card vendors can misuse biometric data, extracting funds from linked accounts. To safeguard against such threats, individuals should refrain from showing fingers in photos and avoid uploading high-resolution close-up selfies. Utilizing the My Aadhaar app to enable fingerprint authentication and temporarily unfreezing it when needed can mitigate risks."

Dr Ananth Prabhu emphasized that involvement in scams extends beyond the banking sector, driven by personal greed. Bank employees, with access to sensitive account information, may collude with fraudsters. To mitigate risks, individuals should use Truecaller to verify bank numbers, ensuring they appear in green. The Data Protection Act of 2019 imposes hefty fines on institutions that sell data, offering some recourse. Additionally, people should opt for virtual Aadhaar IDs instead of disclosing their Aadhaar cards. Virtual IDs can be obtained through the My Aadhaar app. To check if unauthorized SIM cards have been issued under one's identity, individuals can use the TAFCOP app or website. If discrepancies are found, they can report them using the ‘not my number’ option, prompting telecom authorities to investigate and remove unauthorized numbers.

Dr Ananth Prabhu warned about ‘Juice Jacking’, a scam commonly encountered at airports, railway stations, and other public places where travellers charge their phones. He explained that malicious individuals may use devices like the 'OMG cable' to transfer data while charging unsuspecting phones. To safeguard against such threats, he advised switching off the phone before charging and avoiding the use of unknown charging cables. In case of suspicion or cybercrime, individuals should promptly dial 1980, the National Cyber Crime helpline number. Additionally, dedicated portals such as and Cyber Dost provide resources and support. Dr Ananth Prabhu also recommended the platform, offering cyber education courses in various vernacular languages, including Kannada and Konkani.

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Comment on this article

  • Roshan, Mangaluru

    Thu, Apr 25 2024

    Nice article. These days there are even call centers, employing dozens to con people. Scamsters are faceless, money earned is in crores daily and hardly they get caught. Scamsters usually have a dummy, who may not be even having a clue of whats going on, in his name. Authorities are as usual lethargic and victim usully left high and dry. At times a discount offer popped up in facebook, a call representing a bank, someone acting like representive of govt agency, anything can get one conned. It going to explode many folds in coming days, as private data is availbale from service providers for a fee. There are phone makers who pre-install softwares to hack private data too. Cautious, careful, and watchful always.

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