Many people have complained that a major chunk of these spam calls had country codes belonging to Indonesia, Malaysia and Kenya
From Zerodha cofounder Nikhil Kamath to Unacademy CEO Gaurav Munjal, many Indian entrepreneurs have flagged such spam calls
As per a 2021 report, Indians received about 17 spam calls per month on average
WhatsApp users in India have reported a major surge in incoming international spam calls over the past few days, leaving many bewildered and without any explanation.
Taking to Twitter, many users complained that a major chunk of these spam calls had country codes belonging to Indonesia (+62), Vietnam (+84), Malaysia (+60), Kenya (+254) and Ethiopia (+251). Besides, these calls are not just limited to audio but also include video calls and messages from spammers.
It is pertinent to note that a mere country code on WhatsApp does not certify that the call is being dialled from that very country.
Thousands of WhatsApp users in the country are said to have been impacted by spam calls that have flooded WhatsApp users in the past few days. Not only the general public, but also the who’s who of the country have also flagged the issue.
“What is happening with WhatsApp? So much spam. So much,” tweeted Unacademy cofounder and CEO Gaurav Munjal.
The Modus Operandi
Once the call is received, the scammers target the end-user with a larger scam, which starts from a job offer to offering money for menial tasks online. Reporters at Inc42 sat down to understand the modus operandi of the scam and how it targets WhatsApp users.
Upon responding to one such fake job offer from a number being dialed with the US code, the scammer directed us to like certain videos on YouTube and send them the screenshots of the same.
We were lured with promises of hefty commissions sans a joining fee for the job. After we agreed, we were added to a Telegram group and then bombarded with chats of random members, claiming to have earned a fortune just by working with Telegram group operators.
Here comes the twist, to withdraw commissions, we were requested to fill out an online form with personal details.
Once that was done, scammers asked us to furnish our bank details, which is where we put a stop to the misadventure.
Recounting a similar instance, Zerodha cofounder Nikhil Kamath last week tweeted that an acquaintance of his was duped of INR 5 Lakh through a similar part-time job offer on WhatsApp.
Back in 2019, the Meta-owned messaging platform landed itself in a soup after the government mandated foreign digital companies to store the data of Indian users in the country. After much back and forth, WhatsApp was forced to comply with the data localisation norms.
It has also been involved in a public spat with government agencies over its contentious 2021 privacy policies that critics allege violate users’ Right to Privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The Jamtara Redux
India is one of the worst-hit countries when it comes to telemarketing and scam calls. As per a 2021 report by Truecaller, such pesky calls were on the rise in the country. The report added that Indians received about 17 spam calls per month on average.
A recent survey by LocalCircles found that 66% of the poll respondents get three or more such phone calls, on an average basis, daily.
But, this is nothing new. Jharkhand’s Jamtara, which was even the subject of a popular web series, is termed the ‘phishing capital of India’ for the quantum of such scams that have emerged from the city.
At one point in time, nearly 50% of cybercrimes in India could be traced back to Jamtara. Such was the scale of cybercrime operations that cops from across the globe visited the sleepy city 23 times between April 2015 and March 2017.
On May 8, TrueCaller CEO Alan Mamedi said that the caller identification app had witnessed a spike in spam-related reports from Indian users over the past two weeks. He was also quoted as saying that ‘telemarketers switching to internet calling was fairly new to the market.’
The switch to the internet comes close on the heels of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) directing telecom operators such as Reliance Jio and Airtel to deploy AI filters to block spam calls over their networks.
Then, there has also been the issue of WhatsApp and other messaging apps being used by scammers to lure users with Ponzi schemes. In some cases, WhatsApp groups have also been used to fuel fake crypto investment schemes.
While the users have been saddled with a flurry of pesky calls, questions have also been raised on how these scammers get access to the personal mobile numbers of so many users.
Is there a data breach that is yet to be reported or something major? Although more clarity is yet to emerge on the matter, the spotlight is now on devising ways to curb such calls that many have termed an ‘epidemic’.