Social media is flooded with desperate requests for Covid beds, oxygen, and medicines, while reports of theft and hoarding of essential medical supplies are rising. Fraudsters are infiltrating resource lists posted in response to distress calls on social media. Many people have even been swindled out of money.​

Beware: fraudsters are exploiting desperate people seeking Covid drugs

On the evening of April 27, Mahek assisted a friend to acquire Remdesivir so he can treat a Covid-positive family member who had been hospitalized. Mahak spent the last few days looking for verified leads regarding essential drugs, beds, and oxygen cylinders. 

In an Instagram post, Mahek discovered the number of a Cipla distributor. The number was circulating as if it had been verified. After contacting the number, she was told that the man on the other end was able to provide six vials for Rs 40,800. He requested the payment in advance, and he would deliver it to the hospital.

Mahek's husband Rishabh Kapur, an advocate in Delhi, said that he told his wife he was a Cipla distributor. Apparently, the person was helping people non-stop for days and had no time to eat or anything like that."

The man seemed authentic, Rishabh said, adding, "His WhatsApp display picture was the logo of the Cipla Foundation."

Mahek transferred Rs 40,800 into the Bank of India account in the name of "Cipla Foundation Ltd" due to the urgency of the situation.

The man's mobile phone was continually busy after placing the order and paying in advance. There were all kinds of red flags that Rishabh noticed that hadn't been noticed before, including, why would an authorized Cipla dealer charge more than the market rate? Remdesivir is marketed by Cipla at Rs 3,000 per vial; Mahek paid more than double that.

Using the website of the ministry of corporate affairs, Rishabh ran 'Cipla Foundation Ltd'. He found that the firm didn't exist. The actual Cipla Foundation confirmed his fears by tweeting that they were "not involved in any kind of dealing in Covid-19-related medicines" and cautioning the public against "unscrupulous people".​

After several attempts to contact the distributor, the Kapurs finally managed to reach the Cipla representative and asked to see official identification. In response, the man sent them an ID picture that was obviously fictitious but identified him as "Rahul Yadav" of Cipla. The same fake ID card was found on the Internet for eight other companies after Rishabh ran the picture through a Google search.​

The 'Cipla' ID card.

He did not deliver a single vial of Remdesivir, as was expected. In addition, he told the Kapurs over the phone that he did not fear the consequences. In addition to filing a digital complaint, Rishabh called the police control room and they assigned an inspector from the local police station to investigate the matter.

Also check: Techie cheated of Rs 79,000 over Black Fungus drug

How to avoid this kind of fraud?

1. Be sure to verify the caller's details before providing him with any personal information. Authentic companies and banks will never ask for your sensitive information.

2. Always do a thorough search about a company before buying. Read reviews about the company. Avoid buying from a company with poor ratings.

3. If the seller insists on requiring advance payment, it is wise not to make one. Paying the advance will result in them running away. There is a possibility that the seller may block your number after receiving your payment.

4. It is recommended that digital escrow platforms be used for payment. When making an online payment with Escrow, you do not share your financial information with anyone. There is a platform for escrow called Vouch

How does digital escrow work?

In digital escrow, a third-party account holds the money deposited by the buyer until the seller fulfills the terms of the contract. The escrow company supervises the transacting parties.

What is the role of Digital Escrow in preventing online fraud in India? 

Digital escrow services are offered by many companies in India. Among the most trusted is Vouch.

Vouch’s Digital Escrow service is a transparent way for buyers and sellers to build trust and secure a clean transfer of product and payment. Sellers can feel assured that they will be fairly compensated promptly, and buyers will feel confident that their order will be delivered as expected and on schedule. Vouch Digital Escrow keeps you updated and informed at every step of the transaction process till the end. Vouch’s professionals are always available to assist you with all queries that you may have during the entire transaction process. 

There is no scope for deceit or fraud since the payments, shipping, delivery, and execution are carried out under the honest and watchful eyes of the Vouch’s professionals. With Vouch, any business transaction becomes transparent, uncomplicated, and hassle-free. If you ever come across a fraudster asking for OTP, asking you to scan a QR code, or asking you to click on phishing links, you can simply refuse and ask him/her to proceed with the transaction through Vouch.​

This is Fraud Story #148. Check back here for more fraud stories and scams that you can protect yourself from.

​Safety is not just about protecting your credit, debit card number, and UPI accounts. It's about having control of your money till you've received the product or service you bought online!

Note: This is a good-faith initiative to educate the world about avoiding frauds like these and how to act when you're becoming a victim of such a situation. 

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