10 Bhutanese lose 350,000 within 1 week to WhatsApp scams

In a timespan of just one week, the Thimphu City Police Station registered 10 cases of online scams in the name of Bitcoin on Telegram and KBC on WhatsApp. Many Bhutanese have fallen victim to the online scams. In the process, they have lost a total amount of around Nu 350,000 to the scammers.

Police said that they have been issuing an alert public notification on the scams through their social media page, however, people tend to fall victim to such scams. Although they are investigating the case, however, there are certain challenges faced in the process.

Police said, “It takes a lot of time to get related documents from the Bhutan Telecom, TashiCell and the court during the course of investigation. This delays the investigation. Nevertheless, we are trying our best to get to the culprits.”

The scammers are using different numbers to lure people, and they are using Bhutanese bank account numbers to transfer the money, the police added. They urge people to not respond to such kind of scams and to alert authorities. 

Meanwhile, according to an official from BtCIRT under DITT, MoIC, they are not sure of how the recent scam started in WhatsApp, however, some accounts could have gotten hacked and messages may have been passed to the contacts of the messages.

“With WhatsApp, without the enabling of the two-factor authentication (pin code) it is easy to share hacked accounts through social engineering. Once one’s account is hacked, through the hacked account, unsuspecting contacts were sent a plea to share the one-time password, and most of them fell for it and got their accounts hacked,” the official added.

In addition, there was also a scam reported related to DV visa lottery and Australia work visa schemes. Those two cases could possibly be linked. Maybe the scammers are using phone numbers collected from there to send out the lottery scams.

Also, most people are not aware of how sharing information online and publicly could be used for identity theft or to send scams/phishing or malicious links, the official said, adding that unfortunately, in the case of the lottery scams in WhatsApp, blocking one number doesn’t stop as the scammers are sending the same or similar scam messages through other numbers.

The official said, “We, as a department, leverage on reports by citizens to be aware of the prevalence of scams, verify them and try to use our platform to disseminate the information, and hopefully the information is further shared to the masses. We also have to use the main stream media to create awareness.”

The department shared that users need to be aware and use strong and unique passwords and enabling 2-factor authentication. The code shouldn’t be shared with anyone, and it is to authenticate the account holder if it is really the account holder that is trying to log into the account.

When it comes to scams, the official said that people need to verify if the message is genuine by going to the official site for confirmation. The url/links are fishy and not from official government websites or government approved agents. In addition, one shouldn’t click on unsolicited links or attachments in any medium; be it on social media sites or emails.

“Scammers will keep evolving, taking advantage of the situation like COVID-19. What people should bear in mind is that they always need to verify to clarify. If in doubt, ignore it or verify the sources,” the official from BtCIRT under DITT, MoIC said.

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