Mobile banking-related frauds are one-third of all crimes committed using online platforms in the country, and such deceptive offences have gone up in the Covid-19 pandemic, say police.
The Cyber Police Centre of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) says although the fraud victims previously were less willing to file a complaint, the picture has changed since the centre started dealing the cases through a Facebook page and the round-the-clock hotline.
Additional Deputy Inspector General of the centre Quamrul Hasan has told The Business Standard that they try to resolve the complaints received over the phone and send back the stolen money instantly. However, the victims in complicated cases need to come to their office physically and have to go through some legal procedures.
How people are being conned?
Polash, a Dhaka University student, got a text on Facebook from one of his friends in the first week of October. The friend asked him for Tk8,500 and gave him a mobile banking account number to send it.
The university and its dorms were closed at that time.
Polash sent the money instantly without giving it a second thought. He then called the friend to ask whether he got it.
However, the friend said he did not text Polash as his Facebook account was hacked a few days ago. Polash swiftly called the CID hotline and told police the details.
Police found the money that Polash sent to the account was yet to be withdrawn.
They contacted the banking service provider, froze the account, and returned the amount to Polash within hours.
A Noakhali businessperson, Rakib Hossain, opened a mobile banking account last January. In July, he received Tk5,000 in his account from a client. Within an hour, the businessman got a phone call from a person who claimed himself as an official from the mobile banking office.
The person told Rakib that the previous Tk5000 transaction had an issue, and Rakib needed to cooperate to resolve it.
The man asked Rakib to "verify" some details of the account, including the personal identification number (PIN) number. With little knowledge about the new banking system, Rakib shared those and subsequently lost all the money he had in his mobile wallet.
Following the incident, Rakib communicated to the mobile banking service provider, but they could not refund his money.
Types of fraud
The CID said frauds previously used to acquire people's account details by impersonating as mobile banking officials. Cons arrested in different police raids also revealed that they used to steal money by cloning the account holders' SIM cards.
Police in some recent incidents said there are organised fraud groups who have members tasked with certain assignments.
In a given group, some members would collect mobile banking accounts from agents, some would call the account holders impersonating customer care people, some would clone the SIMs and the remaining would collect the conned money.
However, the CID's Cyber Police Centre says this type of frauds reduced owing to massive awareness campaigns by the mobile banking service providers. Currently, there are incidents related to hacking social media accounts first and then robbing of people on the victims' friend lists.
How do they con people?
In the first week of June, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested 13 members of a fraud gang from the capital and Faridpur.
The elite battalion of police said, "People of all strata – poor, rich, educated or uneducated – are walking into the traps."
The RAB said a mastermind controlled the entire team. The hunter team would first collect the customers' mobile number and debit-credit card information. Then, the gang would clone the helpline number of mobile banking service providers. They even cloned the bankers' mobile numbers.
In a press conference, the RAB about the gang said, "They would send Tk1,000 to people's mobile accounts to earn their trust. A team of 10 people, pretending to be customer care executives, would call the customers."
"Sending a PIN or code to the customers' numbers, they would tell them to send the code quickly. They threatened to block the customers' mobile banking accounts, otherwise."
"Those who followed the gang's instructions fell into the trap. As fraudsters clone bank managers' and mobile banking agents' numbers, many customers fall for that. Upon receiving the money, the gang would withdraw it quickly from different parts of the country," said the RAB.
Why those incidents rise in pandemic?
The CID centre said people in the pandemic opted for mobile financial services to avert physical contact. Besides, they would spend more time online owing to the virus-led restrictions on movement.
These two factors helped the swindles rise.
What police do?
Additional Deputy Inspector General of the centre Quamrul Hasan said they received 185 cases of mobile banking fraud in 169 days – from 9 May to 25 October.
During the period, the CID gave an instant solution to 12,560 callers and the additional DIG said they did not clock the cases the CID could resolve instantly.
He said they are receiving 1,200-1,500 complaints over mobile banking frauds through phone calls and facebook page daily.
In the meantime, Ashraful Alam, superintendent of police of the Cyber Police Centre, told TBS mobile banking frauds have been increasing at an alarming rate.
We have already spotted a few areas such as Kalai upazila of Joypurhat, which have comparatively more conmen.
He said some frauds had built luxury houses overnight with the "dirty money".
What to do if you fall victim of such fraud?
Additional DIG Quamrul suggested that people contact customer care centres of the financial service providers as soon as they sense that they have fallen victim to a mobile banking fraud.
He also advised people of checking and verifying before transacting money.
Police suggested the victims reach the Cyber Police Centre via the hotline 01320010148. A sub-inspector ranked officer receives the calls round the clock.
Moreover, complaints also can be lodged by the Facebook page named Cyber Police Centre, the CID Bangladesh.
Additional Superintendent of the centre Mahmudul Islam said if a mobile banking fraud victim contacts them immediately after the swindle, they can freeze the suspected account. He said they can recover the money too in some cases if the frozen accounts still have it.