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COVID Scams On Social Media – Media, Telecoms, IT, Entertainment | #socialmedia | #cybersecurity | #infosecurity | #hacker


We are still witnessing the havoc wreaked by the second wave of
the COVID-19 pandemic in India. With the scarcity of life-saving
drugs, medical oxygen and hospital beds, unlikely heroes have
emerged from the most unlikely places. Termed as “Social media
warriors”, thousands of Indians have been seen using their
social media outreach to collate information and connect people to
essential resources. With approximately 448 million Indians using
social media, websites/ apps like
Facebook, Instagram and
WhatsApp have proved to be critical in saving
countless lives.

And even in an unprecedented, life-threatening situation such as
this, we have seen that cyber-criminals have not been far behind,
by cheating vulnerable people and extorting money by pretending to
be COVID-support groups on social media websites.

INSTANCES OF COVID-RELATED SOCIAL MEDIA SCAMS

A few shocking instances of scams on social media are
exemplified below:

  • Money extortion: A profile on
    Facebook under the name of one “Ajay
    Agarwal” fleeced a Mumbai resident of INR 180001.
    The scammer was posing as a “distributor” of Remdesivir
    injections and assured to deliver 6 injections in return for
    advance payment. After the money was transferred, the scammer
    stopped responding and blocked all incoming calls;
  • Stealing personal information: Another scam
    was the circulation of fake free COVID vaccine registration
    services over WhatsApp and SMS.
    These messages were found to contain a malware link which had the
    ability to steal personal information and breach the security of
    the device2;
  • Misleading advertisements: The medical and
    pharmaceutical industry is currently grappling with an exponential
    rise in COVID-19 related counterfeits circulating in the black
    market. This is being aided by fake ads on social media websites
    for medicines, injections and medical equipment;
  • Fake Profiles: Hordes of profiles on
    Facebook/ Instagram with zero to no followers are
    posing as doctors and advertising “verified” leads for
    medicines and oxygen, which are later being found to be fake;
  • Donations and Charities3: Fake
    requests for charitable donations have been reported on various
    social media websites. Cyber-criminals are now hacking social media
    accounts and contacting people from the friends lists of the hacked
    accounts to ask for monetary help (thereby appearing genuine to
    those at the receiving end of the scam);
  • Sexual Harassment: Not surprisingly, women
    have once again become the target of harassment and unsolicited
    attention on social media. Women who have reached out for help from
    their social media accounts have been the subject of spam calls,
    lewd comments and crude photos. Unfortunately, this has also become
    a recourse for jilted lovers/ stalkers to harass women by sharing
    their personal contact information on COVID support groups.

LEGAL HURDLES

Victims of such social media scams have had difficulty in
availing legal recourse and securing justice owing to complex
jurisdictional issues4. For instance, a victim located
in Jaipur was duped by a scammer located in the NCR region. Upon
filing an FIR with the Delhi Police, he was informed that he should
in fact file a complaint with the Rajasthan Police. However, he was
later informed by the Rajasthan Police that since the phone number
of the scammer belonged to Jharkhand, the jurisdiction of the
complaint would lie with the Jharkhand Police.

In any case, the victims, already burdened by urgent medical
requirements, do not even register a criminal complaint, thereby
allowing the scammers to get off scot free in a majority of
cases.

What do Numbers Speak?

In a recent newspaper article in the Indian Express5
it was reported that as of May 2021, the Delhi Police has
registered 372 FIRs and arrested 91 people involved in cyber
frauds, including on social media websites. The Cyber Crime Cell of
the Delhi Police has even launched ‘Operation Cyber
Prahaar
‘ to curb frauds and nab scammers who cheat
people in need of oxygen and life-saving drugs. As per the data
published by Delhi Police, the cyber cell teams have blocked
214 bank accounts involved in these cases and
frozen a sum total amount of INR 53.60
lakh
as of May 2021.

PREVENTION AND COUNTER-ACTION COVID-RELATED SOCIAL MEDIA
SCAMS

Social media scams can be nipped in the bud by (initially
well-meaning) third party users not “verifying” suspect
posts as legitimate sources (without at least conducting brief due
diligence) from the get go. As per Mr. Rachit (founder & CEO of
Avenue Growth), who has assigned 35- members of his staff to
provide verified information and created the platform
We Will Win” to combat COVID-19, a two-
step verification process should be conducted for COVID-leads on
social media websites6:

  1. Calling the listed phone numbers to verify availability and
    price;
  2. Request for official email address, bank account details as
    well as photographs of the stock to verify authenticity.

Other steps that may be taken to prevent the perpetration of
such social media scams include:

  1. Match the location of the social media listing and phone
    number;
  2. Avoid transferring money to personal bank accounts;
  3. Check social media activity of organization/ individual. No
    activity or social media presence could be a possible scam;
  4. Avoid submitting personal information on social media;
  5. Report any instances of fraud or suspicious online
    activity.

Social media is revealing itself to be a powerful tool for
people who require immediate medical assistance. These small steps
will go a long way in ensuring that cyber-criminals do not profit
off the vulnerabilities of people and help keep social media a safe
space where people can work together to combat the virus.

Footnotes

1 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/82394674.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

2 https://www.91mobiles.com/hub/covid-19-online-scams-india/

3 https://www.livemint.com/money/personal-finance/protect-yourself-from-cyber-fraud-in-the-time-of-covid19-11619727266648.html

4 https://www.indiatoday.in/coronavirus-outbreak/story/covid-crisis-and-frauds-how-oxygen-scammers-are-duping-desperate-patients-1798582-2021-05-04

5 https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/delhi/2021/may/12/91-arrests-372-firs-in-covid-cyber-fraud-cases-2301413.html

6 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/mumbai-fraudsters-lurking-on-social-media-beware-of-the-great-covid-rip-off/articleshow/82394674.cms

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For further information please contact at S.S Rana &
Co. email: info@ssrana.in or call at (+91- 11 4012 3000).
Our website can be accessed at
www.ssrana.in

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.



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