Editor's Note: For our Decode Voices section, we will be documenting personal experiences with the Internet and online platforms. Technology, privacy, law and policy will be touched upon through these stories. In this story, Swati Thapa tells Kaisar Andrabi how she almost got scammed by someone pretending to be from FedEx.
On an early cold morning on January10, in a yes-no situation to get off my bed, my phone rang. It disturbed the leftover sleep and I attended the call.
A soft-spoken woman with a refined Indian English accent identified herself as a customer care operator from FedEx (An American multinational company focused on transportation, e-commerce and business services). Asking my credentials if she is talking to the right guy she pronounced my name as Swati Thappa. I affirmed in a sleepy tone.
The next details the lady shared got me to go straight back from my bed. “A package linked to my Aadhar ID has been seized by the Taiwan authorities and marked as suspicious for holding illegal items,” I remember the lady saying. It was a scam call I found out later.
The first impact of the call that usually a scammer does is create a fear psychosis. This call had done that job at the onset. I had fears that I might get into some trouble.
What basically made me believe her words was our mandatory Aadhar detailing for different government and private sector services. I knew I'm not directly involved in any wrong but had fears that my Aadhaar details might have been misused.
The scams around, and the phishing incidents in the news made me believe that any harm is possible. I listened to every word of her carefully.
“A parcel with your Aadhar ID no that you sent from Mumbai to Taiwan in March 2023 got seized for illegal possession of 3 kilograms of textiles, 5 credit cards, 11 passports, 2 pairs of shoes, and 800 grams of weed,” the lady told me over the phone.
To make their story sound more legitimate, she gave me the tracking number of the parcel.
Hats off to her communication skills! She made me follow her every diktat for the next few minutes. She asked me where exactly I had to deliver the package and to whom this was sent. I had no idea what she was asking and I repeatedly tried to convince her that she had some misinformation. But she got me caught by my Aadhar details.
To my surprise, the caller claimed of having CCTV footage even. Like I had been hypnotized by her, I even couldn’t simply ask her to share the CCTV details.
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The well-knitted story had yet another character to make me believe that something is wrong for sure. “I will connect you to the Mumbai police official,” the lady said and asked me to wait for the next call.
The Next Call
As she hung up the call, I was trying to figure it out and meanwhile, the phone rang again. It was a WhatsApp call from a different number. I picked up the call, a man introduced himself as Naresh Gupta, Inspector in Mumbai Police posted at Andehri station. I had never been to Mumbai but Bollywood had already made me familiar with places in Mumbai. Andheri police station is an established one in the reel world.
He repeated the same story that the lady had already said. To clear the air and seemingly trying to help me out, he asked for my Aadhar card details. Poor of me! I sent him the photograph of my Aadhar card on the WhatsApp number.
Once I sent him the details, he passed on the information to some other guy to verify it. What made me not suspect anything about the inspector was his background noise! I could hear the wireless transmissions, it seemed like a police station ambiance.
The inspector spun the whole story. He now alleged me of money laundering, accused me of being involved in financial fraud and claimed that my ID has been used for Hawala transactions with multiple bank accounts operating in my name.
This gave me an inkling of the fraud happening to me but I was still not sure.
Playing the good cop bad cop, he assured me of help but at the same time reminded the gravity of the crime. He asked me to transfer an amount of 95,499 rupees to verify the authenticity of the transactions.
This bait was an old technique and a heard one. Here is where I got saved from a scam in offing and my little savings that was about to be robbed off.
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To pressurize me more, they sent me a fake document with a CBI stamp, threatening to freeze my account for 2 to 3 years if I didn't comply.
I desisted from sending any money, It is easy to get a pint of blood from a middle-class person but not the money! After a few seconds of reluctance, he hung up the call.
The takeaway from the horrific incident was that I realized how a less tech-savvy person could be an easy potential victim of fraudsters. Worried about potential misuse of my details, I approached the nearby police station and narrated the entire story.
The officer on duty assured me not to worry and said they will try to track the callers and nab them. Reporting the incident to the concerned police gave me some respite. I hope the scammers get arrested soon so that no gullible masses get duped.
Note: FedEx has issued a statement that the company doesn’t request for personal information through unsolicited phone calls, mail, or email for goods being shipped or held, unless requested/initiated by customers. "If you get any strange calls or messages, don't give out your personal information. Instead, call our customer service hotline at 1800-22-6161 or 1800-209-6161 for verification.
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