Scams To Sextortion: A Look At The Cybercrimes Of 2023
In a year marked by unprecedented technological advancements with artificial intelligence, the dark underbelly of the digital world has proven equally adept at evolving and orchestrating sophisticated cyber scams.
From cunning Aadhaar-related scams to the insidious world of sextortion scams, the realm of cybercrime has witnessed a surge in creativity and complexity, posing the law enforcement with challenges that necessitate the adaptation to emerging technologies to stay one step ahead of evolving scams in the future.
Decode covered a plethora of cybercrimes happening around the country. Our stories throw light on the pressing need for vigilance, education, and collaborative efforts to fortify our digital defenses in the face of an ever-expanding threat landscape.
Here are the top scams we witnessed in 2023.
AePS, or the Aadhaar enabled Payment System, is a Unique Identification Number (UID) based payment system where bank account holders can perform financial transactions using Aadhaar based authentication and biometric information which includes iris scan or thumb impression. Under this system, a bank account holder just needs to give their 12 digit Aadhaar number, bank account number and their thumb impression to customer service point in order to withdraw money
Launched in 2014 by the Indian government to empower residents of villages with limited or no access to traditional bank branches, the system has transformed into a convenient avenue for scammers to exploit. All these fraudsters require are Aadhaar numbers and cloned fingerprints.
Decode covered a story in Bihar, where bad actors have been deceitfully taking the thumb impressions of unsuspecting villagers on M-seal and using them to execute the scam. In another instance, fingerprints were being stolen from the government website of land registry offices in West Bengal, for the same purpose.
The year also saw instances of online job scams orchestrated by fraudsters who used the personal information of victims found on job search platforms such as Naukri.com. These schemes resulted in individuals encountering threats, counterfeit penalties, and attempts at extortion.
Decode spoke to victims who were blackmailed with fake legal notices after not being able to complete mammoth tasks with unrealistic deadlines assigned by counterfeit companies. In other cases, some fraudulent companies ‘shortlisted’ people after fake interviews and asked them for hefty money for doing visa processing and background educational checks. These are all tactics applied by scammers, as pointed out by cyber experts who told Decode that “genuine companies always bear all the cost of pre-joining procedures”.
Online cheating scams in the name of FedEx courier calls was one of the most common scams of the year. The scam involves initiating contact with the targeted individual, informing them of an illicit FedEx package containing items such as tiger skins, cocaine, or high-value jewelry purportedly sent to their address.
Subsequently, the targeted person receives communication from an individual posing as a police officer, who requests their participation in a Skype call for additional investigation. Emphasising the need for confidentiality, the fraudsters proceed to send fabricated documents, including those seemingly from the CBI, RBI, an arrest warrant bearing the individual’s name, and other deceptive materials.
Following this, the targeted individual is informed that their Aadhaar number is allegedly being utilised for money laundering. The perpetrators proceed to gather information pertaining to the person’s bank account and Aadhar card, urging them to transfer money to specified bank accounts. The promise is made that the money will be reimbursed after verification by the RBI.
The year 2023 also saw WhatsApp, one of the most widely used instant messaging applications in India, becoming a conduit in the hands of bad actors executing sextortion scams. The cybercrime involves enticing an individual over a video call, followed by threatening to expose sexually explicit images or videos of them. Besides, the scam also involves using AI to create explicit images for extortion, from publicly available images on social media.
Decode covered the sextortion scams happening from the Mewat region, approximately 100 kilometers from New Delhi. The scammers, operating in a group, targeted individuals by posing as police officers and threatening arrest for creating pornographic content. The victims were coerced into sending money, with the scammers using recorded videos and explicit content for blackmail.
In a massive raid in April this year, Nuh police in Haryana arrested numerous individuals involved in the pan-India cyber fraud amounting to Rs 100 crore.
WhatsApp international calls
Earlier this year, several people took to X sharing screenshots of their WhatsApp call logs containing missed calls from international numbers starting with +84, +62, +60, and more. In the garb of easy money tactic, many even lost lakhs to scammers who were behind these calls.
In light of the scam, Decode had interviewed cyber expert Ritesh Bhatia, who talked us through its modus operandi. The scammers employed a sophisticated technique, starting by checking the activity of a targeted phone number through automated missed calls. Once confirmed, they sent WhatsApp messages enticing individuals to like links on platforms like YouTube or Instagram, in return for money.
After gaining trust, the victim was directed to a Telegram group where they invest money in various packages, purportedly yielding quick returns. As the victim progressed, the tasks shifted to cryptocurrency and stock-related activities. Despite the apparent earnings displayed, the scam ultimately trapped individuals in a cycle where they could not withdraw the money, leading to a sense of helplessness.
Hera Rizwan / Updated: December 23, 2023