Habits to avoid online scams

There is no one-time solution to keep our financial data safe. We have to evolve with the criminals.

By: Sayantani Kar

One of the most creative species on earth is humans. And, even more creative among them is a sub-group, which keeps the rest of us on our toes. Fraudsters. Think about it. Their job description (if this was ever a formalised sector) would have to include ‘highly creative to be a step ahead of others’.

Evolution takes on a new meaning when it comes to fraudsters. From law enforcement to victims, we find warnings and precautions wither with too short a shelf life as new sets of scams fool us the next time.

But we need to persevere. Keep on updating ourselves to beware of phishing and vishing attempts and avoid them with good habits. As we have said in our ‘11 things to know before investing’, being careful can never be taken too lightly.

Earlier this year, India’s largest bank, the State Bank of India (SBI), put out a warning — against fake social media handles. Yes, now it has come to this. To the many ills of this ‘love it or hate it but can’t ignore it’ part of our digital lives, fraud attempts are the latest addition.

SBI’s tweet warned us to only interact with verified handles on social media which declare them as official. Anything else should be avoided like the plague.

Fraudsters have honed their skills to such a level that they have false apps, social media handles, apart from the myriad notorious call centres and websites masquerading as the real deal.

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We don’t have to wade into the ‘deep web’ to find out the murky side of the Internet. False websites have existed for long, making the unassuming among us lose our way. Criminals have only taken it to the next level — actively or preemptively misguiding us by using fabricated social media profiles.

Many of us use banking apps. Even in our trusted app stores, there are false apps which could be downloaded by mistake, opening up a Pandora’s box of trouble and worse, financial loss. A banking app asks us for our MPIN (mobile pin), letting us transact and transfer just as if we were at a branch. Imagine the havoc wreaked if we end up using the wrong app published by a scamster.

Just as we are warned to not share our digital financial ids (from PIN to the CVV on cards) with anyone in person or on the phone, similarly we should avoid the same on websites, apps and social media handles without verifying.

For websites, we should not click on just any result that comes up in a search engine such as Google. Fraudsters make use of search engine optimisation to push their pages ahead of genuine landing sites. Of course, the search engine companies are vigilant, constantly weeding out false information, but it pays to be careful. Let’s always look for the ‘s’ (for secured) following ‘http’ on the browser’s address bar when accessing banking or other transactional websites (online shoppers, listen up).

We should pay attention to the look and feel of the website too, before we begin to use it. A lot can be discerned with a careful eye.

Criminals have also come up with ways to get us to dial the wrong helpline numbers. Say, we have lost our debit card, for example. In the moment of stress and panic on finding out, we might turn to a quick online search for a listed phone number to call for reporting and blocking our card.

If we skip being mindful, the next thing we know might be a call straight to a fraudster, asking us for sensitive information in the guise of help. Best way to avoid it is to save the needed numbers of our banks from genuine sources as a habit.

App stores try and optimise the verified apps ahead of others but we could depend on a genuine bank website to download the app, instead. Else, doing it in the presence of a branch official could be a safer option with guidance in person.

As for social media handles, we should know better and not divulge any personal information or be coaxed offline to share on the phone through such media.

At the most, we can flag an issue on social media and proactively follow up on numbers we know are genuine instead of waiting for someone to call us.

Genuine bank officials will never prompt us for sensitive information.

We must also avoid clicking on instant messenger links for anything financially attractive. They are often a sure shot way of swindling us. The links could plant a worm in our gadgets and skim away details that help to rob us.

It is not always irresponsible customers who get scammed through such attempts. One-time passwords (OTPs) have proved to be fraught with danger. The likely victims include first-time digital banking customers and senior citizens who unwittingly give away this crucial safeguard to people identifying as bank officials. A phone corrupted with a downloaded virus/worm might automatically route the OTP for a fraudster to make merry.

If we can read up once a while or keep our eyes peeled for news on financial scams, it would make it an easier task to outwit the ‘creative’ criminals. Creativity, after all, should be a source of joy, and not pain, in this world.




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