Cyber fraud: Airtel CEO asks 321 million subscribers to take precautions

Airtel cyber fraud warnings
Image by Coosh448 | Bigstockphoto

Bharti Airtel, India’s second-largest telecom operator, has warned its customers of cyber fraud and asked them to take precautions amid the spreading COVID-19 second wave. The company’s CEO (India, South Asia), Gopal Vittal, said that the telco is working “relentlessly” to ensure that its subscribers are not vulnerable to fraudsters.

“These last few weeks have been amongst the most harrowing and desperate for all of us in India. I do want to promise you that we will do everything in our power to make this most difficult of times a little easier to bear. One such area we are focusing on to help you is cyber fraud,” Vittal said in a letter to Airtel subscribers. 

The top executive had sent a similar letter with cautionary advice to subscribers last year. Cyber fraud cases have gone up since last year in the country. 

With the growing second wave of pandemic and lockdowns in various parts of the country, there has been a massive increase in online transactions. “Unfortunately, there has also been a corresponding increase in cyber fraud. I would like to warn you of the kinds of fraud that you could likely face,” Vittal said.

The Sunil Mittal-led telco, which has over 321 million subscribers in India, recently launched “Airtel Safe”, an industry-first feature to make online transactions completely securely, without the fear of being duped by a fraudster. The feature provides an additional layer of security for every transaction. 

“So before you actually make a payment, our network intelligence throws up a message asking you to confirm the transaction to the person who is trying to pull the fraud. Therefore, if you activate Airtel SafePay, you are not vulnerable to fraudsters,” he said, adding that the feature works with an Airtel Payments Bank account. 

The telco had recently rolled out a nationwide campaign to impart knowledge and spread awareness about cyber frauds and phishing. 

Vittal said that customers are experiencing cyber frauds wherein they are duped into installing apps that can track all accounts installed in the device. He also warned against frauds wherein a subscriber’s one-time password (OTP) and UPI details are accessed to make digital payments directly from their bank accounts.

“Common instances of fraudsters calling customers pretending to be Airtel employees and duping them.”

In his letter, Vittal said that the telco observed that a fraudster, claiming to be from Airtel, calls or sends an SMS to the customer regarding an incomplete Know Your Customer (KYC) form. 

The fraudster, he said, requests the customer to install the “Airtel Quick Support” app from the Google Play store to allow him to help. Since no such app exists on the play store, he is redirected to TeamViewer Quick Support App when the customer tries to install it. “The TeamViewer Quick Support app allows the fraudster to remotely take over the device and accounts associated with the device. And so, if the customer does install it, they allow the fraudster into all their accounts connected to the device,” Vittal explained. 

Additionally, the fraudsters are calling Airtel customers claiming to be from Airtel and promising highly discounted VIP numbers. “As a part of the transaction, the fraudster requests a prepayment as a token/booking amount. Post receiving these funds, the fraudster ceases all contact with the person and becomes untraceable.” Vittal added.

Vittal clarified that the telco Airtel does not sell VIP numbers on the phone and will never ask its subscribers to download any third-party apps. “In both instances, please immediately call 121 to confirm. In fact, I would say when in doubt, simply call 121,” he added.

Related arcticle: Cybercrime thrived during pandemic according to Verizon DBIR report

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