Demand grows for anti-scamming laws in Nepal amid rising fraud cases

Anti-scamming laws serve as the first line of defence against the complex world of frauds exploiting citizens across geographies and demographics. Photo: Flickr

The penetration of the internet coupled with the widespread adoption of mobile devices has created a fertile ground for cybercrimes to breed at an unprecedented pace and scale. Of the diverse threats that surfaced, financial scamming has emerged as a pressing challenge causing huge socio-economic distress worldwide.

Scamming involves preying upon the vulnerabilities of unwitting citizens using deceptive schemes aimed at swindling funds or stealing valuable personal data. The landscape of such frauds has exploded to encompass a range of formats – from notorious phishing attacks stealing account details to e-commerce frauds, sinister hoaxes on social media and the traditional sleazy Ponzi schemes promulgated through spam calls or messages.

Scammers leverage innate human tendencies of fear, panic, desperation or unwarranted trust that make even rational individuals lower their guard in different contexts. Romance scams leveraging emotional connections or even impersonation of customer care executives of banks are all aimed at exploiting psychological triggers in susceptible minds. 

Once sufficient people get conned by clever social engineering trojans or by charismatic frauds over media channels, the cycle only gathers momentum destroying personal finances, especially of vulnerable elderly losing entire pensions to better-designed schemes.

What earlier manifested as isolated incidents of frauds occasionally notifying law agencies have now mushroomed into organised scam factories discreetly operating across continents to evade geographical regulatory barriers. From small call centres running phishing campaigns to large scamming businesses outsourced by international fraud cartels, the problem has assumed gargantuan crisis proportions currently estimated to result in global losses of up to $500 billion annually.

The actual figures could be even higher owing to substantial underreporting, especially in developing countries with weak vigilance frameworks. While expanding internet connectivity, smartphones and social media footprints have granted fraudsters direct access to potential victims more than ever, these very channels also allow coordinated global action to counter the menace if adequate institutional mechanisms are instituted.

Stringent laws, dedicated anti-scamming authorities, and financial surveillance agencies coordinating with technology firms and telecom providers supported by international cooperation agreements can systematically disrupt large organised scamming syndicates.

Common scam call patterns

Setting up anti-scam cells in enforcement agencies and giving them powers like freezing payments gateways, and surveillance authority over communication channels fosters systematic policing of this sophisticated crime.

There are several ways a person can be scammed online. These days technology aids have helped to boom scammers all around the world.

In such a situation, Nepal should also be aware of common scam call patterns to prevent being scammed. Here is a list of three scam call patterns:

  • Fake bank/wallet customer care scam

This scam involves fraudsters calling up potential victims while impersonating customer care executives of banks or digital payment companies. They then cook up various contexts like confirming a suspicious transaction from a victim’s account, blocking a compromised ATM card, processing an online refund or activating a new mobile banking facility.

To facilitate this, they request confidential details like credit/debit card numbers, CVV codes, expiry dates and OTPs (one-time passwords). For example, calling up Ram and posing as VISA Bank staff, scammers may claim that there was a transaction approved in another city and they need to block Ram’s debit card immediately by verifying vital details over the call. Once the card details are furnished, the scammers gain full access to siphon off funds from the accounts.

  • Threatening legal action scam

Under this scam pattern, the fraudsters call up victims posing as government agencies such as tax authorities, bank investigators or law enforcement officials. They would then accuse the victim of committing financial violations like tax fraud, bank loan default or other offences. Thereafter, immediate repayments such as fines, taxes or instalments would be demanded within a short deadline, failing which stern legal action like property seizure, bank account freezes or arrests have been threatened.

For instance, Maya could receive a call where the scammer claims he is calling from the Income Tax Department and Maya has dues worth thousands that need instant clearing else her house and bank balance would be seized by the department through court orders.

  • Fake lottery winning scam

Here the fraudsters randomly call up potential victims and inform them that they have won big sums in an online or SMS lottery programme that the victims never even participated in. To facilitate the release of the winnings, a small upfront transfer of charges, taxes and processing fees would be sought. Scammers persuade victims to wire these fees promptly through means like internet banking, gift cards, cash transfers etc.

However after the money is transferred, the victim stops receiving any calls and finds out they have been scammed. For instance, Mark suddenly starts getting calls stating he has won Rs 5 million in an R&G Lottery programme and a payment of Rs 45,000 needs to be made urgently as documentation and clearance charges to credit the winning amount in his bank account. But the promised funds never arrive.

Things to be done

Photo: millersville.edu

Scam calls pose a formidable challenge for law enforcement due to the use of VoIP, spoofing and cheap temporary numbers. Globally, countries are waking up to the need for stronger legal provisions, surveillance systems, and coordination across telcos, device makers, regulators and police to address this socio-economic menace.

Likewise, to defend against scams, the one role of government can be to enact anti-scamming laws. Anti-scamming laws serve as the first line of defence against the complex world of frauds exploiting citizens across geographies and demographics.

By clearly defining terms like phishing, e-commerce scams, lottery frauds, hacking, identity theft and social media impersonation, such laws establish scamming as a punishable offence whether conducted online or offline. Stringent penalties act as deterrence while mandating safety checks like two-factor authentication, identity verification on transactions, and companies disclosing security breaches promptly to empower the public.

Dedicated units for reporting scams create crucial databases that reveal patterns allowing predictive intervention. Setting up anti-scam cells in enforcement agencies and giving them powers like freezing payments gateways, and surveillance authority over communication channels fosters systematic policing of this sophisticated crime.

Laws requiring sensitisation programmes and counselling support create awareness and prevent trauma. Making scamming a non-compoundable offence signalling zero tolerance coupled with harsh prison terms blocks the formation of organised scamming gangs out to con gullible citizens.

So while technology aids ever-evolving scams, progressive laws and eager enforcement together build robust shields defending the collective interests of citizens across geographies by preventing this profitable crime from embedding its roots.

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Chaudhary is a law student at Nepal Law Campus.

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