How to avoid the trap in becoming a part of a cyber heist

Cybercrimes, cyber security, job adverts, online posts, social media, phishing, money mule, cyber heistCybercrimes have been consistently on the rise in India.

By Kiran Shetty, CEO & Regional Head – India & South Asia, SWIFT

Cybercrimes have been consistently on the rise in India. Last year alone, India accounted for more than one-third of the global 350 million cybercrimes, translating into a loss of over Rs 1.24 lakh crore. The pandemic has further propelled these risks as social distancing norms have led to a digital-first approach – be it how organisations work or how consumers pay. These ‘new normal’ working conditions are being used by cybercriminals to carry out frauds through more ‘innovative’ ways.

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As per the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) there have been increased cyber frauds incidents since the COVID-19 outbreak with users falling prey to fraudsters who are luring them on false pretexts, such as alleged completion of KYC requirements, impersonating identities and websites of banks and payment operators, etc.

While the banking industry is continuously evolving its cyber security measures and adopting new ways to fight cybercriminals, it is equally critical to understand how one can unknowingly be caught in the trap of these large-scale cybercrimes.

What is a Money Mule and who is at risk of becoming one?

Before we evaluate who is at risk of becoming a money mule, it is important to understand what a Money Mule is. Money Mules play a central role in money laundering and serve as intermediaries for cyber-criminals and criminal organisations to exfiltrate stolen funds from a bank to criminal benefactors. These mules are either complicit to the fraud and willingly receive funds into their accounts to forward it to a criminal or as in most cases are unsuspecting individuals who are lured into providing their account to be used for criminal purposes with the promise of easy money.

Today, those at risk of being recruited as a money mule are vulnerable individuals who are seeking ways to earn extra cash. This can be to fund their higher education, clear debts or those who are looking to make ‘easy money’.

How to sense if you are at risk of becoming a Money Mule?

Cybercriminals easily lure you with seemingly legitimate job adverts, online posts, social media, and other methods. These also include lucrative calls and messages offering a lottery ticket or a paid trip to Europe or a job. Always remember, the sole objective of the cybercriminals is to simply gather your personal information and ultimately use your bank accounts to carry out the activity. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of various methods that fraudsters will use to extract your bank account details or make you a part of their crime, with or without your knowledge.

Here are some pointers to keep in mind to avoid falling for the money mule trap:

  • Be cautious of emails asking for your bank account details and verify the credentials of the person/ company asking for the information prior to sharing it.
  • Be wary job offers from people or companies that are overseas that offer great reward without mentioning clear details on the qualification or experience requirement.
  • Never respond to emails that ask you to pay any amount to collect your “prize money” or “lucky draw”.
  • Never share OTP, PIN, or any other secure financial details with anyone.
  • If you realise that you have fallen a victim, share the details with the right local authorities or your bank at the earliest.

To recruit money mules, criminals often prey on people who lack awareness or are in urgent need of easy cash. To add to this, the pandemic has also made it an opportune time for fraudsters to victimise individuals that have been laid off. As unemployment continues to soar, the probability for falling for scams and phishing schemes or becoming a money mule increases. It is therefore extremely important to be vigilant and wary of these traps to thwart risks of becoming a money mule.

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