When Pinakita Gupta ordered a surprise gift for her friend through an Instagram store Chic Carnations, little did she know she was in for an unpleasant surprise herself.
The account of the purported seller on the photo sharing website showed pictures of customized gift items and maintained a few thousand followers. As an unsuspecting customer, she made an advance payment of Rs.1700 to the bank account provided, but to her shock, the gift never arrived. On repeated enquiries, the Instagram seller said that the order had been dispatched and would be delivered soon. After some time the seller stopped responding to her calls and eventually, the account was deleted.
This is one amongst the many rising cases of criminals duping users of social media. Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp which were previously limited to social networking have now become powerful marketing and sales platforms. To avoid heavy costs of a brick and mortar shop, young entrepreneurs are using these applications to set up their businesses in the virtual world. However, these applications have also become a den of cyber criminals who con users by creating phony accounts, collecting payments and then deleting the accounts altogether.
Rakshit Tandon, an advisor to the cyber crime cell of Gurgaon Police cautioned users to beware of such frauds. “Shopping scams on social media run rampant. People must verify the credentials of the seller and take due diligence before making purchases on community oriented platforms like Instagram. Most tricksters on social media do not provide customers with the Cash on Delivery Option. They insist on upfront online payments to their bank accounts which are opened through dubious means,” he said.
Encouraging people to come forward, Tandon added, “Victims of fraud should not hesitate to approach the police. On the cyberspace, it is impossible to erase a digital footprint completely. In most cases, investigations are concluded within three to four weeks of complaint registration and criminals are booked under the IT Act or section 420 of IPC.”
He also stated that the duration of the investigation may vary depending upon the nature and complexity of the case.
Besides phony outlets, other financial scams are also widespread. A research report published by ZeroFox, a cyber-security company, in August last year exposed how criminals defraud gullible social media users into sending money or disclosing banking information. The scammers usually set up authentic looking accounts that mimic recognised banks to target thousands of its customers. They contact unwary individuals and promise to ‘flip’ or boost their money and return a huge profit. After extorting money, the fraudsters then take off. These scams have come to be known as ‘money flipping’ scams.
Karnika Seth, a cyber law expert and Supreme Court advocate says it is imperative that customers ascertain the security of a website before revealing any personal information. “Hackers employ phishing attacks because of which many people fall prey to net banking and credit card frauds. Always use an HTTPS website and only if it is a secure server should you share your passwords and bank account details”, Seth said.
With more and more people joining social media platforms, the pool of potential victims for cyber criminals is only increasing. It is thus, essential to be thoroughly aware about what an online portal offers. “Before buying anything off the web, one must check if the company exists in the first place,” Seth advised.