Mobile phone scammers active during Covid-19 crisis | Sunday Observer

Mobile phone scammers active during Covid-19 crisis

Each year, people the world over fall victim to mobile phone scams. Similar scams are now often reported in Sri Lanka, as smartphone technology continues to evolve at a fast pace reaching even the most remote areas in the country. Though experts and even mobile service providers have taken the initiative to warn the public at various times, people have continued to be scammed out of thousands of rupees by fraudsters and this has been no different during the current Covid-19 crisis..

As Police sleuths recently arrested several individuals in connection to the Easter Sunday attacks while speeding up their investigations into the incident, in a bizarre twist, a group of organised scammers has now utilised the news to extort money from hapless victims.

On May 4, one of the victims of this latest mobile phone scam had received a threatening call. The caller had posed as a prominent Deputy Inspector General of Police.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, the victim’s son who wished to remain anonymous said, the man claiming to be the Senior Police Officer had claimed that his father’s name had cropped up in Police investigations into the Easter Sunday bombings. “The scammer had claimed that my parents had received some suspicious calls on their landline which the Police were now investigating into,” he said. According to the son, the scammer had then claimed his father would be arrested and this could only be prevented if he pays up Rs. 45 000. The caller had even provided information of two ATMs from which the victim could withdraw the money which he had demanded. The victim was asked to deposit the money using the E-case system found at ATMs.

“Even though he did no wrong, my father had felt very scared,” he said. The man speaking in Sinhala had used vocabulary often used by the Police leading him to believe that the scammer was indeed who he claimed to be. “So, in fear he had decided to pay up,” he said.

However, following the incident, the victim had lodged a complaint with the Wattala Police. It was there they were told that the Police had received similar complaints from other victims of the scammers.

“It is very unfortunate that crooks are using times such as these to prey on innocent victims,” the victim’s son said.

According to the Police, the group had attempted to extort sums of money ranging between Rs 25 000 - Rs 50 000 from the victims by threatening them.

In another case, a Twitter user also shared his parent’s narrow escape from the scam. The scammer has called his landline posing as an official attached to the same DIG’s office. The scammer had told his father who answered the call, that ten individuals were monitored regarding the arrest of a particular lawyer over the Easter Sunday bombings, and that their landline was monitored for two months.

He has then said that a jeep would be sent to their house to pick up the Twitter user’s mother under whose name the landline was registered. The scammer has demanded Rs. 10,000 to drop the case against his mother. The instructions for the mode of the cash deposit were the same as in the previous case. However, the scam was foiled when the Twitter user’s father ultimately lodged a police complaint.

As similar incidents started being reported, the Ministry of Defence last week urged the public to be aware of any scams using E-cash methods to extort money from victims. The Secretary of Defence, Major General (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne, said that this had been brought to his attention by the Police recently. According to Gunaratne, the Police have been directed to investigate the incidents. He also requested the people to be more mindful.

While Police investigations are continuing into the scam, no arrests have been made so far..However, the Police are requesting people, both victims and others to come forward with any information they may have to prevent more people from falling victims to white-collar criminals. The Police officials say they are prepared to take immediate action on complaints received.

The Secretary of Defence, meanwhile, has also urged members of the public to complain to the nearest Police station or call the Police hotline 119 if they are approached by such fraudsters. Gunaratne has assured that stern action will be taken against the scammers and anyone involved in the racket.