Two days after the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) allowed online sales and home delivery of alcohol in the city, a 21-year-old college student in Bhandup on May 24 received a message on WhatsApp about a wine shop that was offering the service in the area. As he had already purchased alcohol from that particular shop earlier, the youth checked Google listings to ascertain if the number belonged to the shop, and subsequently called on it and placed an order. The call recipient, however, informed him that there was a problem with the debit card and asked him to share few photographs of its front and back sides and the one-time password (OTP) for the transaction. A few minutes later, Rs 1.5 lakh was withdrawn from the bank account linked with the card.
According to police several such fraud cases were reported from across the city in the last few days. With a spike in demand for alcohol after a dry-spell due to the lockdown, online fraudsters, were tapping potential buyers through WhatsApp messages, the police said. While the wine shops and their addresses are authentic, the scammers just tamper with their phone numbers listed online, they said.
With such cases on the rise, several people have taken to social media to warn others. In one such post on Twitter, the user, who goes by the name Kritika, has tagged the Mumbai Police and said a message has been circulating under the name “King’s Wine” in Powai. The ‘shop’ was taking orders but not delivering alcohol despite payment, the user claimed.
Another, Jinali Shah tweeted she had paid Rs 2,500 to “Mukesh Wines” in Borivali for alcohol through Paytm, but the delivery was not made. Deven Sharma, another Twitter user who has also tagged the Mumbai Police on his post, claimed he had paid Rs 3,060 to an online liquor delivery shop in Aarey, but did not get the product.
Saikat Mitra, director of Trust and Safety at Google India, said, “Millions of businesses regularly make edits to their addresses, hours of operation, and more, so we rely heavily on the community to help keep listings up-to-date and flag issues. We work hard to fight against spammers who try to wrongly leverage these listings. When we encounter or are alerted about fake information, we remove it. We continually work to identify and remove content that violates our policies, and encourage people to flag any such content so we can review and take action.”
Interestingly, even before the BMC had allowed online delivery of alcohol in the city, several advertisements were doing the rounds on Facebook, claiming to supply alcohol at home.Mumbai-based cyber expert Shubham Singh said, “A lot of liquor shops are putting up their numbers outside their shops. The safest way to ensure, you are not duped is to call on the number displayed by the shop and follow basic online security, like not sharing OTP with anyone on the phone.”
Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Santosh Rastogi said they had compiled a list and released 186 fraudulent numbers that were being circulated online as helpline numbers to cheat people.