The number of online frauds is on the rise, with many people losing their hard-earned money to these scams every day. A total of Rs 30 lakh in online fraud cases have been reported in Visakhapatnam alone since January 2019, according to the Vizag cybercrime police. Cybercriminals edit Google search results with fake customer support numbers in most of the cases reported by customers. 

In response to fraud cases involving fake Google customer service numbers, the Vizag Cyber Crime Investigation Cell has issued a notice to Google, threatening legal action if they fail to send a representative before the specified date for crimes committed using the Google search engine.

Real-life incident

A woman made a purchase from an online shopping portal and returned the product as she didn't like it.  She did not receive a refund for the product. Her next thought was to call the customer service number and she searched for it on Google. She then called the number that showed up in the search results. To receive the refund, she was asked to provide her card information and her OTP by someone pretending to be a customer service representative. However, the lady lost Rs 80,000 because she provided all these details.

 In another instance, a person from Hyderabad ordered a 'special chicken biryani' through Zomato. To his dismay, he was served 'sambar rice' instead of biryani. In dissatisfaction with the service offered by Zomato, he searched for the customer care number on Google and called up the customer support team.  Unfortunately, Zomato does not have a customer care number.  He ended up with a fake number that scammers had posted. A fraudster took the call and identified himself as a customer service representative of that company and apologized for the inconvenience.

His response was that money would be refunded, and he shared the QR (quick response) code link. To get the refund, the fraudster asked the victim to scan the QR code. As he scanned the QR code; Rs 50,000 was automatically taken from his bank account. 

How are fraudsters cheating users through Google?

In order to cheat users, fraudsters have modified the contact details on Google Maps to replace the original phone numbers for banks, shops, and other establishments. 

When customers call these numbers to report issues they have faced, fraudsters pose as customer service representatives and steal sensitive financial information. They then send the customers fraudulent links that erase their money from their bank accounts.

To prevent fraud, the cybercrime cell sent a notice to Google urging it to remove fake customer service numbers from the Google search engine.

How can people avoid this fraud?

1. Do not rely on the customer service number that pops up on Google, instead, go to the official website of the company to get the customer care number. Verify that the website you visit is legitimate and secure.

2. Don't give anyone your credit card number or OTP over the phone. You will never be asked to provide those details by a bank or company.

3. The use of digital escrow platforms for payments is recommended. When you make an online payment with Escrow, no financial information is shared. 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 #177. 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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