Tuesday, March 09, 2021

UPI and Wallet Scams - Chapter II

After writing about scams on UPI and Wallets in my previous post, I wasn't expecting to write another post on the same topic. But such is life.

Today I received a call from another number: 8099319108. After my previous experience, I installed TrueCaller on another number, keeping aside all privacy issue (Used a non seeded gmail account for Android login so that no known contacts are present on this device).

Context: I am selling my recliner, for which I posted advertisement on OLX. In chat, an interested buyer requested number couple of days back. UPI is a peer to peer money transfer technology launched by Govt. Paytm is India's most widely accepted digital wallet.

Part I: How the calls went:

8.30 AM: Short missed call from scamster
8.56 AM: I call back (No response)
9.14 AM: Another short missed call from scamster
9.15 AM: Scamster calls

Conversation- 1:
Scamster: Sir maine aapka ad dekha OLX pe (Saw your advertisement on OLX)
Me: Haan bhaiya batau (Yeah, tell me)
Scamster: Thoda kam kar sakte hai price? (Can you lower the price)
Me: Bhaiya 14500 ka recliner already half price se kam pe daal rakha hai 7000 me, 3 saal hi purana hai, aur kya kam hoga (I've already put the recliner on less than half price, can't go lower)
Scamster: 14000 tak hi de paunga (I can give 14000 only)
Me (realizing the con was a pawn): Bhaiya aapne meri post bhi padi hai? Kitna rate likha hai usme? (Have you read my post, whats the rate mentioned)
Scamster (Fumbling): 1 minute... Mai dusri post dekh raha tha (Was seeing another post)
Me: Bhaiya to batao fir (Tell me)
Scamster: 6500 ho sakta hai? (Can we do the deal at 6500)
Me: Not possible
Scamster: Theek hai, 7000 me leta hu. Aap address or number do payment ka, mai naukar bhejunga. (ok, I will buy it in 7000 then. Send me your address and number for online payment, will send a servant to pick up)
Me: ok, Whatsapp message karo ek baar (Send me a whatsapp message once).

9.20 AM: Few minutes later, I get the whatsapp message.
9.23 AM: I ask him to send the money on Paytm Wallet
10.01 AM: Scamster calls 2nd time

Conversation-2: 

Scamster: Bhaiya paytm nahi, UPI chahiye hoga. (I don't have paytm, only UPI)
Me: I don't have UPI, only paytm. Aap cash de dena nahi to. (Give me cash or paytm wallet transfer)
Scamster: Nahi bhaiya, mere paas selling machine hai, uspe sirf card se transfer hota hai, and wo sirf UPI me transfer karegi (I have a POS machine which allows for card to UPI transaction - white lie).
Me: Bhaiya dekh lo, paytm hi kar do, UPI to hai nahi
Scamster: card payment pe mujhe 2% point aate hain

10.03 AM: At this point, scamster disconnected call.
10.29 AM: I was having some spare time, so decided to try other tactics to learn more about modus operandi of this scamster. Gave him a missed call.
10.54 AM: Received a call back from the scamster

Conversation-3:

Me: Bhaiya aap recliner me interested ho na? (Brother you are interested in recliner right)
Scamster: Haan (Yes)
Me: To ek kam karo, mai price thodi kam kar leta hu, aap cash me deal kar do 6000 me (I will lower the price, please pay in cash, I will take the hit of extra points you would've got)
Scamster: Nahi mai sirf online hi karta hu, cash hai nahi mere paas (Only online options)
Me: Arey bhaiya, aap kis cheez ka kaam karte ho (oh, what is bursiness)
Scamster: Furniture showroom hai mera, JP Nagar me 
Me: Kis naam se (what is the name of business)
Scamster: Krishna Furnitures
Me: Arey bhaiya tab to aapko pata hoga thoda theek karke iske 10-12 mil jayenge aapko, dono ka fayda hai (Trying to sell him the recliner - its a winwin if I lower the price)
Scamster: paytm nahi hai mere paas (don't have paytm)
...  After some more time ...
Scamster: (Puts Call on hold for a minute, then disconnects)

11.00 AM: I try to callback
11.03 AM: Scamster picks my call

Conversation-4:

Me: Wo call disconnect ho gaya tha - dekh lo bhaiya try karo (the call got disconnected - can you try paytm)
...  After some more time ...
Scamster: Theek hai mai dekhta hu (I will try once)

12.47 PM: No call from scamster - I have some spare time again. I get an idea, why don't I pose as a customer looking to exchange things? Let me ask him for a study table of 5-6k in the  place of recliner. Another win-win
12.47 PM: I call the scamster again

Conversation-5

Me: Bhaiya wo recliner ke liye phone aaya tha aapka (Brother I had received a call for the recliner from you)
Scamster: Haan bhiaya bolo (yes tell me)
Me: Paytm hua (Did Paytm work)
Scamster (getting frustrated, I'm wasting his precious day time): Nahi bhaiya aapko kaha na sirf UPI (No brother told you only UPI works)
Me: Bhaiya acha aapka furniture ka store hai na (You have a furniture store right?)
Scamster: Haan (Yes)
Me: 1 kaam karo na, mujhe study table chahiye, aapka servant recliner lene aaye to uske sath bhej dena. Aap photos whatsapp kar do mujhe (Do one thing, I wanted to buy a study table, when your servant comes, he can get that in place of a payment)
Scamster (I think he is finally catching up): Bhaiya mera 2nd hand furniture shop hai (I've a second hand furniture shop)
Me: Haan Haan, mujhe bhi purani study table chalegi (Yes, I am ok with an older used study table)
Scamster (Disconnects call)

12. 49 PM: I call back again

Conversation-6

Me: Bhaiya mai wo exchange ki baat kar raha tha (I was talking about exchange)
Scamster: Arey ham koi pehli baar business thodi kar rahe hai, lakho ka daily ka kaam hai
Me: Haan bhaiya to mai to dono ka fayda dekh raha hu na (I'm going for winwin of both)
Scamster: Arey kyu pareshan kar raha hai (Why are you troubling me)
(Call disconnected)

1.39 PM: I am not fully satisfied with the conversations, now I want to do another call :D

Conversation-7

Me: Bhaiya wo kar lo final deal - study table kar do recliner ke badle (Let's finalise the deal)
Scamster: Arey bhaiya nahi lena keh to diya. Ham cash nahi karte, na hi kuch aur bhej sakte hain (can't do anything other than UPI)
Me (try to convince him for a couple more minutes)
Scamster (fully frustrated): arey keh diya na nahi le rahe, kisi aur ko bech do, kahe gaand fad rahe ho. (Told you can't take it, sell it to someone else, some **** slang)
Scamster (puts the phone away somewhere)
Scamster (not realising call is still on, talking to another person nearby): Ham sabki maarte hain ye hamari hi raid mar raha hai


Part II: Why UPI and not PayTM

Some time back, such scams were also popular on Paytm. But now, UPI has replaced the place. Why?

Because Paytm requires full KYC as per RBI guidelines for wallet to wallet transfer. And being a private entity, Paytm is much more sensitive towards such scams, so has built in many checks (such as multiple authentications, screening of sellers) etc. Also, I believe Paytm money can't be transferred back to bank account without some fees, so the money stays within the PayTM wallet ecosystem. Whereas, UPI, by design supports peer to peer transfers and tries to enable digital transfers for genuine sellers as well, which is misused by such scamsters by a mix of gaslighting as well as process unclarities and ignorance of general masses. Also, UPI enables shifting of funds from one to another bank, making tracking of funds a much harder process because one needs to look into multiple banks.

Part III: Is there a script to the scamsters?

Seems like a no. The scamster this time changed and adapted their stories much more fluidly. It wasn't like a call center, and I could hear the Azaan (muslim prayer) once, as well as the sound of many vehicles passing around. So, this seemed like a random store one can find in a city / town. The person spoke very good Hindi, but there was a tinge of Bihari/ Awadhi in his dialect, and the number showed as belonging to Assam on TrueCaller, so seems like this scamming activity has become a part time profession for lots of retail scamsters. And why shouldn't it? After all, they can show these UPI payments as genuine transfers, since any such transfer requires OTP authentication from the customers.

Part IV: But what can we do even if we're aware? 

Doesn't seem like much. 

Firstly, there are jurisdictional issues - this is an inter-state scam, whereas law and order is a state list matter, so most local police won't show much interest in such a case. (I don't know of any inter-state agency within India which directly investigates such crimes). 

Second, the scamsters have cause for deniability - since no money exchanged hands, and the scamster can always claim innocence, it is very hard to show culpability of the scamster. Moreover, all this happened over a phone call, and in the process I did end up calling the scamster, so any good lawyer will definitely find an alternative narrative that reduces odds of establishing guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Third, While this scammer didn't block my number, an earlier one did. So, establishing any kind of communication becomes a hard subject beyond a point. Moreover, prepaid SIM cards do not require in person address verification, which makes tracking the scammer harder

Fourth, Given the diffused nature of crime, and possibility of lack of an organized nexus of such scamsters, I think the any investigation would end up finding small fishes/scapegoats instead of the larger ones, who will be much more sophisticated in hiding themselves.

Still if one has the time, one can take the effort to register an FIR to see where it ends.

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