Pune, 18th January 2024: The cyber cells of the Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad police commissionerates have witnessed a surge in complaints over the past few days regarding fraudsters exploiting WhatsApp accounts to extort money from individuals in victims’ contact lists.
In this nefarious scheme, hackers manipulate calls and messages of victims, directing them to a specific number to obtain OTPs and gain unauthorized access to their WhatsApp accounts. The Pune cyber police have received at least three such complaints, while three others have been reported to the Pimpri Chinchwad police within the last five to six days. Various local police stations in the city have also recorded similar grievances.
A woman journalist shared her harrowing experience as a victim, stating, “I received a call from an individual claiming to be an employee of a courier firm. He asserted that their delivery partner, tasked with delivering my parcel, was unable to reach my address. The caller provided me with a contact number starting with 401, followed by a cellphone number. Although skeptical, I dialed the number, thinking it might be related to internal communication in private companies. It was only later, when friends called my husband to inquire about the money I was supposedly requesting, that I realized I had fallen prey to the fraud.”
Police Inspector Minal Patil of the Pune Cyber Police Station expressed concern over the rising number of such complaints, emphasizing the need for people to exercise caution and avoid dialing suspicious-looking numbers.
Another victim, a working professional who filed a complaint at the Warje police station, recounted her experience, “A friend, aware that my son was recently hospitalized and assuming I needed financial assistance, transferred Rs 45,000 to the fraudster. The message was sent from my official WhatsApp account, prompting him to send the money.”
The affected individual highlighted that her WhatsApp account was subsequently blocked for seven days, and the police assisted in halting the forwarding of calls and messages from her number.
Experts revealed that fraudsters were exploiting a feature offered by cellphone service providers, allowing users to forward calls and messages to another number through specific dialing or texting procedures. This technique, considered relatively straightforward, was being utilized by cybercriminals to deceive unsuspecting individuals.
A cybercrime investigation expert advised victims to cease internet banking immediately, report the incident to the cyber police, and change passwords for emails and all accounts linked to the compromised cellphone number. The authorities are urging heightened awareness and caution among the public to thwart such hacking attempts.