Barasat’s Rima Sahu (name changed on request) was planning to buy a sofa-cum bed for her dining room but space was an issue. Selling out her five-year-old three-seater sofa seemed the only way out. Seven-eight years ago this might have been quite a task and she probably would have had to depend on word of the mouth promotion. But not now!
She took out her swanky smartphone… click, click, click and the sofa was up for sale for lakhs of OLX users. Little did she know that her quest of finding a buyer quickly would lead her to a trap.
“I received a flurry of messages within a few minutes. I was like wow! This is so easy. I literally had no time to reply to all of them. To the ones I did, I got a call. The woman on the other side asked a few basic questions and she was ready to buy my sofa. Her only request was that she will pay through Paytm or Phonepay,” said Rima.
Without even realising Rima had walked directly into the trap of these new-age imposters who pose as fake buyers in popular sites like OLX and try to dupe money. So how do they do that?
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They simply trick you into paying money digitally. Rima was sent a Phonepay QR code and asked to use it for a transaction of Rs. 6000 which was supposed to be the payment for her sofa. But Rima realised that one never receives money by scanning a QR code, one always sends it. She immediately disconnected the call and reported the user.
“I can’t believe I was just about to send money. Imagine someone who is not well-versed with such payment methods. She was so sweet and guiding me through all the steps like a helpful associate. It was like 'Jamtara',” she added.
Those who haven’t watched 'Jamtara', it’s a Netflix series which deals with crime such as these. While the plot of 'Jamtara' revolves around the more common crime of callers faking as bank representatives and asking for ATM pins or CVV numbers to do online transactions, what happened with Rima on OLX is the new digital way of robbery.
Amit Trivedi (name changed) was another OLX user who received calls and texts just like Rima. He too received a Phonepay QR code when he asked for money for his cupboard up for sale on OLX.
“I almost ended up paying. I mean I’m an accountant. If someone like me can be tricked so easily imagine the plight of a senior citizen or those who don’t use smartphones that often?” asked Amit.
Unlike Rima, Amit received three calls in a day from different numbers who faked as buyers and wanted to dupe money. “All of them were the same. After the first call, I was alert. But didn’t imagine I would receive three calls from these fake buyers.
“Amazingly all the accounts through which I received texts and calls from were deactivated the next day. I don’t know whether OLX took action or they deactivated themselves but I was sure that their sole intention was to take money from the common people. I ended up deleting my OLX account,” said Amit.
So how do users separate these fake profiles from the real ones? Experts say there are certain clues. The fake profiles won’t have a display picture. The profile details too won’t be up to the mark and mostly they would very easily talk about payment without conducting a thorough inquiry about the product on sale.
“See, in In some cases, it is indeed difficult to differentiate between a real user and these criminals. But most of the time they give out clues. Market research shows that genuine buyers in OLX or any other platform like it have a lot of queries about the product on sale. We all know that the product is not new so a genuine user will always want to be doubly sure before initiating price-negotiations which is not the case with these fake buyers. They ask a few generic questions about how old the product is, where is your location and then jump to digital payments. On most occasions they would assure you of buying the product that day itself,” said cyber-crime researcher Amit Ganguly.
While it is true that OLX is doing its part by sending daily notifications to users like ‘don’t scan any QR code for payment’ and ‘never pay in advance’ but it is definitely not enough to safeguard the interest of the public.
Does that means OLX is unsafe for buying and selling? Definitely not, but there are signs of it turning into a breeding ground for such crimes. As the tagline of the show ‘Jamtara’ suggests ‘sabka number ayega’, OLX itself and the users too will have to be extremely careful before their number actually comes.