Digital security

Sophisticated Aadhaar-related bank fraud has left police in Delhi and Noida baffled

The con involves the fraudulent withdrawal of money from bank accounts of victims with the help of a SIM card, Aadhaar and the United Payments Interface.

The police in Delhi and the neighbouring township of Noida are investigating several complaints of fraud in which money was suspected to be siphoned out of bank accounts of victims with the help of a Unified Payment Interface-supported application linked to Aadhaar, the 12-digit biometrically linked unique identification number that the government wants every Indian resident to have.

The fraud seems similar to the debit card scams that were rampant in India not long ago, which were aimed at people who are less digitally savvy and end up giving confidential information away on a phone call. Though the police are investigating a number of these cases, which involve Aadhaar-linked United Payments Interface apps, there is much they still do not understand about the scams.

The United Payments Interface is a system that allows users in India to transact across 30 banks using their smartphones. It was developed by the National Payments Corporation of India, an umbrella organisation of banks.

“Since March, the police in Delhi and Noida have received more than 30 such cases,” said Kislay Chaudhary, cyber security consultant to several government agencies and police departments in India.

How the scam works

According to Chaudhary, the modus operandi in this racket involves a complicated procedure in which a caller, pretending to be a representative of the Unique Identification Authority of India, which manages the Aadhaar database, calls the victim on the pretext of linking their Aadhaar with their Permanent Account Numbers. This is one of the linkages the Union government has been pushing hard for.

Chaudhury said that the caller first asks the victim for their Aadhaar number and then tells them this is a verification call. The caller then asks them to reveal the code sent to their phone from the Unique Identification Authority of India to complete the verification process. When the victim reveals this number, the caller’s job is done.

The code is actually a One-Time Password generated by the Unique Identification Authority of India. It is sent to the registered phone numbers of those enrolled with Aadhaar when a request is made on the website to change the personal details, such as telephone number, of an Aadhaar holder.

“This alteration can be done through the UIDAI [Unique Identity Authority of India] website, which is actually a facility provided for the convenience of people,” said Chaudhary.

He added that the conman then uses the One-Time Password to change the phone number linked to the victim’s Aadhaar number on the website. “The perpetrators are suspected to have replaced the victims’ phone numbers with numbers in their possession,” said Chaudhary.

The conman’s next step is to download a popular United Payment Interface-supported application, which automatically detects Aadhaar numbers linked to the SIM card of the phone in which the banking application is installed. The application automatically searches for bank accounts linked to the Aadhaar number linked to the phone, said Chaudhury. At the end of this operation, the conman has access to the victim’s bank account and can initiate banking transactions.

Though payments made via the Unified Payments Interface require a Personal Identification Number, this security measure proves useless as the conman himself gets to generate the PIN while registering with the Unified Payments Interface-linked application, said Chaudhury.

Investigators puzzled

Bhisham Singh, Deputy Commissioner of Police in Delhi (Crime Branch), said: “The pretext of linking Aadhaar with PAN seems like a new trend among conmen, who keep updating themselves with the times. We have a dedicated department in the cyber cell which looks into all such cases. Investigation into several such cases are underway.” Singh did not disclose any further details.

Superintendent of Police (Noida City) Arun Kumar Singh could not be reached for his response.

But investigators are baffled at the way the scam works. They say these instances of fraud are more sophisticated than those seen previously. In the past, gangs succeeded in getting people to disclose the secret details of their debit cards and used those details to steal their money. The Delhi police first encountered an Aadhaar-related phishing case in May 2015. “By the time an investigation could begin, three more cases were reported between May 2014 and 2017,” said a police official.

Police officials in Delhi who did not wish to be identified said that investigations into the more recent cases of fraud have apparently hit a dead end.

“From preliminary investigations, it has emerged that most of the transactions were executed through phone numbers issued on fake identity documents, and on mobile devices with duplicated IP addresses,” said an official. “So, none of the perpetrators could be traced so far.”

At the same time, there is much that investigators are yet to understand.

For instance, the victims of this scam say when the fraudulent transactions took place they did not receive text messages from their banks, which they usually do whenever they make transactions.

The police official said: “As banks send text messages to customers on the basis of phone numbers saved in their own databases, we do not understand how the conmen ensured that the victims did not receive text messages from their banks when they withdrew money from the victims’ accounts.”

He added: “The full modus operandi can be dissected only when a gang involved in this scam is busted.”

On Wednesday afternoon, senior UIDAI official responded to a query from Scroll.in. “Such incidents have come to our notice,” the official said. “People must know that UIDAI will never make any such phone call to verify Aadhaar details for the purpose of PAN. One must not disclose any verification code [which can actually be an OTP] with such callers.”

This article has been updated to include UIDAI’s response.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.