Airtel CEO raises alarm over surge in cyber frauds amid pandemic, outlines steps on how to stay safe online

by Joseph K. Clark

Airtel will be offering these services starting this week. Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal on Friday raised alarm bells for its 300-plus million subscribers in India over the surge in cyber fraud cases amid the ongoing pandemic. In an email sent out to customers today, Vittal highlighted the modus operandi that miscreants are seemingly adopting to trick unsuspecting users – who are relying on online transactions now more than ever – to mete out their nefarious practices, say, for instance, to steal their hard-earned money. The email also carried some valuable tips to keep in mind to avoid being a victim of online fraud during these challenging times.

“With the growing second wave of the pandemic and lockdowns in various parts of the country, online transactions have been massive. Unfortunately, there has also been a corresponding increase in cyber fraud,” Vittal said. One of the ways that fraudsters could trick users is by calling or texting them under the pretext of an Airtel employee claiming theirs Know Your Customer (KYC) form was incomplete. To facilitate this “false” claim, they could ask users to install a so-called “Airtel Quick Support” app from the Google Play Store, presumably through a link sent to their device. Be warned that no such app exists officially.

Vittal urged users to guard against such instances, which is to say, be extremely careful about clicking on any such link and installing any such app because Airtel will “never ask you to download any third-party apps.” instead, the link is designed to redirect users to another app called “TeamViewer Quick Support”, which is malware in disguise. Once installed, it could allow the fraudster to get complete control over the user’s device and all its associated accounts.

cyber frauds


Fraudsters could also reach out to users with a promise of highly discounted VIP numbers similarly. Instead, they could ask users to pay a specific token or booking amount and become “untraceable” after receiving these funds. Vittal said, “Airtel does not sell VIP numbers on the phone,” Therefore, it was advisable not to fall for any such attempt.

OTP frauds are on the rise. Lately, Vittal said, due to the increase in digital transactions, more and more people stay cooped inside their homes to curb the spread of novel coronavirus. Fraudsters could call users under the pretext of a bank or financial institution and ask them for their account details or an OTP claiming to unlock or renew their existing account. This would allow them to withdraw money from the user’s account if shared. Vittal urged users not to fall for such a thing.

Yet another way that fraudsters could dupe users is by pretending to buy a second-hand listed product from a website, negotiating the price, and seeking their UPI details to transfer the funds. An SMS link is usually sent to the user’s phone to approve the transaction, but money is debited from their account instead of crediting the amount.

Vittal said in all the cases where fake Airtel employees called users, they could call 121 to confirm if that was indeed the case – or if they were being duped. The Airtel CEO added that the telco was working relentlessly to ensure users were not vulnerable to these fraudsters and introduced features like “Safe Pay,” providing an additional security layer for every transaction.

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