Even after eight months, Covid-19 is keeping the world on its toes. From different angles, this pandemic is creating multiple sorts of problem mostly economical. The strongest economies of the world are going through disasters and none can say how long the world can keep out from the threat of a long economic depression. Though Bangladesh is still handling the situation pretty well, we can never say that we will not face the tough time in the future. Along with many other problems, we must note that, fraudulent activities all around the world have increased a lot amid COVID-19 and Bangladesh is also no exception.
With increasing unemployment due to economic depression and poor financial performances, the world might face serious rise in fraudulent activities especially in the form of cyber crime. Hence, it is of utmost important to take strong measures against such traced activities as well as to alert the people of such frauds.
A wide range of frauds related to the pandemic are understood to be on the rise. These include scams relating to the purchase of PPE or hand sanitizers, where goods either do not exist or are of sub-standard quality. There has also been an increase in phishing and smishing (using text messages) scams and identity thefts, which may be an attempt to take advantage of the increase in people working from home and potentially less stringent security arrangements. Attempts to fraudulently access government funds made available to help ease the economic impact of the pandemic are also thought to be on the rise.
Moreover, market volatility brings more than just economic challenges-it also increases the risk of fraudulent activity. Due to an alarming increase in unemployment, many people are resorting to criminal activities to make ends meet.
A new wave of payments fraud has emerged in the US as millions of consumers have shifted their banking and purchasing activity to online channels since the COVID-19 outbreak forced mandatory stay-at-home orders.Criminals are increasingly sharing resources and information and reinvesting their illegal profits for the development of new, even more destructive capabilities. The growing availability of malware is making it easier for even inexperienced criminal actors to launch their own operations. The growing availability of mobile devices, cloud-based data storage and digital payment systems has provided an ever-expanding host of attack vectors for cybercriminals to exploit.
At the beginning of June this year, the FBI warned of a heightened risk of cyber-attacks as more US consumers embrace digital banking. The agency warned that malicious apps were being embedded inside third-party software, and banking Trojans can appear to be legitimate login pages. The agency noted that mobile banking use has increased as much as 50% during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
Not only general frauds but also political frauds are coming out throughout the globe during COVID-19 pandemic. The US President Trump and his company are being investigated for possible bank and insurance fraud, a significantly broader inquiry than the prosecutors have acknowledged in the past. Previously, the Trump Foundation scam forced Trump to pay $2 million in charity. Along with those many other political frauds are ongoing at different countries.
Even in the best of times, government corruption and mismanagement are harmful – they can cost lives and financial resources. In today’s pandemic they fuel a spiralling tragedy. Together, they will prolong the crisis by undermining government efficiency, significantly increasing the loss of life, wasting untold resources, and reducing society’s already fragile trust in government – each of which has significant long-term consequences that will linger far longer than the virus itself.
During the last few months, we are receiving thousands of emails offering free funds, informing about gifts resting at courier service offices, sharing new business opportunities etc. All these are phishing and malware mails many of which ask for personal information including bank account details. If anyone falls into the trap of these invitations, they might be serious victims of cyber fraud.
A woman was arrested for her alleged involvement in fraud and embezzling money, promising to take people to Canada and America with marriage proposals advertised in newspapers. She claims to be divorced in the newspaper advertisement and says she would take her suitor abroad after marriage. She and her associates embezzled Tk25-30 crore from many victims.
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has arrested four Nigerian citizens and a Bangladeshi woman for allegedly swindling people out of money over social media during the first week of August. They introduced themselves as US citizens on social media to scam people and would build a friendly relationship with people on social media. After a while they would tempt their victims with expensive gifts for them from the US. The victims would send money to different banks after talking to their foreign fraudster friends about the situation who would assure their victims repeatedly that they would get very expensive gifts.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police has arrested 15 Nigerian nationals during late August for embezzling large sums of money in the name of giving gifts by befriending as ‘US female soldier’ on Facebook. The accused made friends with people from different countries including Bangladesh through fake Facebook IDs of beautiful women, WhatsApp and SMS.
Along with the above mentioned scams, incidents in the health sector, ranging from the forging of fake COVID-19 test certificates to the supply of fake masks and substandard protective gear, are alarmingly on the rise. The incident of providing fake COVID-19 test reports by Regent Hospital and JKG Health Care shacked the country while people also witnessed thievery in relief distributions, including the attempt to embezzle money from the allocation for cash incentives meant for the needy by enlisting fake cell numbers poor people, supplying fake N95 masks to government hospitals and personal protective equipment to physicians as well as producing fake plasma donors for COVID-19 treatment.
Other than these, frauds like; imposter victimization, sexual extortion, investment frauds, mobile money transaction related frauds etc. are increasing rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic period. Not only Bangladesh but also the whole world is facing this dilemma. The upcoming months may see increasing forced unemployment along with lack of new employment opportunities. This will generate greater opportunities for fraudulent activities.
The identified and arrested fraudsters should be punished severely and their punishment should be publicized to the maximum extent. The law enforcers should open a different cell to inform people about the ongoing fraudulent activities through media. A vivid nationwide awareness campaign should be run by the different stakeholders. Process of filing fraud complaint should be made easier. A user-friendly independent department should be formed to monitor such complaints and rapid actions should be taken as such fraudsters give very little time.
Moreover, if we cannot eliminate or reduce unemployment, it will be very difficult to restrain people from getting engaged in activities like; fraud, theft, hijacking, mugging and other criminal activities. As we are entering dry season after COVID-19 and prolonged flood, the government should invest in creating temporary project based employment for people at different levels. Rather than granting stimulus, it has become more important to create jobs at least for a year in plenty.
Along with corruption, frauds can bring huge struggle for the people. The governments of Bangladesh as well as all other countries should take immediate steps so that along with COVID-19, such fraudulent activities do not bring more misery to ordinary people’s life. We hope, our policymakers will not ignore this new threat.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Centre (DRC)