According to the Vizag cyber crime police, several cases regarding online fraud amounting to nearly Rs 30 lakh have been reported since January 2019 in Visakhapatnam alone. Vizag cyber crime Inspector of Police V Gopinath says that most of these cases are a result of fake customer care numbers edited on Google by online fraudsters.

The Vizag Cyber Crime Investigation Cell had issued a notice to Google warning that legal action will be initiated against the company if it fails to send a representative person by July 8 in relation to cyber crime cases based on Google search. Inspector Gopinath said that if a representative does not show up, Google’s nodal officers for India will be added as an abettor in cases reported on online fraud based on the search engine. The notice was sent under CrPC Section 160, requiring the attendance of a representative from the company.

“We had already sent them a notice three months back asking them to take necessary action to ensure such fake contact information is removed from their website in a timely manner to prevent such fraud. Although they sent a response saying they would work on verifying such information and avoiding fraud, the number of complaints haven’t gone down since then. We want them to meet us and discuss necessary security measures to prevent such crimes,” Gopinath said.

Even after sending them details of such cases after FIRs were filed, he said that Google has not taken necessary action and the same fake contact numbers are still showing up in Google searches.

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With Google failing to send a representative for a second time on Monday, Inspector Gopinath said that the Cyber Crime police will seek legal advice on how to proceed on the matter.

How fraudsters are conning users
According to Gopinath, fraudsters are easily able to edit customer care information for popular e-commerce websites, online food delivery services etc. When users call customer care regarding complaints related to issues failed transactions, the fraudsters posing as customer care executives extract their account details and send fraudulent links that allow them to extract money from the caller’s bank account.

“For instance, recently we received a complaint, where a customer booked a room in a 5-star hotel and made the payment online. Someone pretending to work for the hotel sent them a link, through which payment was made by the customer. They learned later that the payment had gone to someone other than the hotel management, and filed a complaint,” Gopinath said.

According to the Inspector, such cases of online fraud are often carried out by organised networks, with call centres based in places like Bihar, West Bengal and Noida. People often receive links where they approve the transaction, thinking it is for depositing the amount into their account, but it is actually a UPI link requesting the money to be transferred out of their account.

“The problem is not just limited to Visakhapatnam. It is happening across the country,” he says.

In another case, a customer who had received a wrong order from a food delivery app contacted customer care based on a Google search. According to Gopinath, the customer was sent a link to fill personal information for the refund. Instead, Rs 1,50,000 was extracted from their account.

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“There are also many fraudulent apps on Google Playstore which are uploaded daily. Although Google does remove these apps once they’re identified as not being secure, such apps can also be dangerous. Some of them can make the information on your phone accessible to others using the same app. This can also be used to extract personal details and commit financial fraud,” Gopinath says.

How can Google help
Gopinath says that although Google had written to them that they would work on streamlining and filtering false information on their website, these cases have continued unabated. “We want them to step up their security measures. Right now, anyone can edit information related to a business. There should be more steps of authentication before someone can edit such information, like the use of an OTP etc.”, says Gopinath.

He also adds that while many such cases of fraud are done through Google Pay, Google does not provide details of the beneficiaries to protect users’ privacy. “When we receive complaints on payments done through other online payment systems like Paytm and MobiKwik, we are able to get the beneficiaries details and sometimes recover the amount. In the case of Google Pay, several complaints have been received since it was launched as Tez in 2017, but we are not able to receive beneficiary details even after FIRs are filed,” Gopinath says.

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What can people do
Gopinath says that although the use of the Internet for e-commerce and banking has gone up, there isn’t enough awareness about identifying false information and links which are not secure. “People must be careful and not resend information they have received over the phone and not share OTPs or account details with unknown people. They must make sure that it is a secure HTTPS link before making any payment. HTTP links must not be used for online transactions” Gopinath warns.

We reached out to Google for their comment on the issue but haven’t received a response yet. The story will be updated if and when they respond.

In response to the earlier notice sent in November 2018, Google had sent a letter to the police stating that they were committed to “ensure that Google products are used in a constructive manner and for their intended purposes.” The email further said, “Upon becoming aware of the current issue involving listings of certain financial institutions, multiple teams at Google reviewed the matter and took prompt and effective actions that included temporarily disabling third party users from making any edit to a listing that is associated with the business category of financial institutions and sub categories or carries the name of a bank.”

Adding that the edit feature was meant for ensuring that business listings remained updated in order to benefit users, the response reassured that the changes made would reduce the likelihood of such incidents occurring in the future. #KhabarLive