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Government cracks down on pesky calls, SMSes, financial fraud; to set up online complaints platform

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The government is setting up a redress mechanism through which, as part of a crackdown on erring telemarketers and people, mobile phone users facing harassment through pesky calls and messages and succumbing to financial fraud can lodge complaints in real-time either through an SMS or through the use of an app or through a website.

“A senior official told, “The government will initially set aside Rs 20-25 crore to set up the system… once the complaint comes in, the government can not only levy financial penalties but also block the SIM card and also the device itself.

The above system will strengthen people’s confidence in the digital ecosystem and will make digital financial transactions more secure and reliable, primarily via mobile,” the government said in a statement Monday.”

The steps were decided at a meeting held on Monday in which Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister of telecommunications, ordered strict action against errant telemarketers and persons involved in the harassment of telecommunications subscribers. The telecoms secretary, member (technology), and DDG were also senior officials who were part of the meeting (Access Service).

It was also proposed during the meeting that financial penalties be levied on telemarketers and individuals for violations of laws on the back of growing financial fraud incidents carried out using telecommunications resources.

The government said in a statement Monday, Prasad “also aimed at developing special strategies including blocking telecom operations due to increasing concern in the Jamtara and Mewat region for curbing fraudulent activities involving the use of telecom resources.”

The Minister also directed DoT officials to meet with telecommunications and telemarketers to underline the gravity of the issue and to ensure that this type of harassment and fraudulent behavior is stopped immediately.

The latest move by the government comes on the back of a battle between the telecom regulator and telcos on one side and the digital payments industry on the other, on the need for stricter regulations to curb fake SMS headers by scamsters to dupe e-transaction customers.

In fact, at the meeting, officials pointed out that even subscribers registered in the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) service continue to receive commercial communications from Registered Telemarketers (RTMs) and that other Unregistered Telemarketers (UTMs) are also sending commercial communications to subscribers.

The battle came to a head when major digital payments – Paytm filed a written petition last year against, among others, Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea (Vi) telecom sector regulato, telcos.

Paytm moved the courts alleging lax implementation of the Customer Preference Regulation 2018 for Telecom Commercial Communication (TCCCPR). All business entities that send promotional and transactional SMSes must register their headers and content on a telcos-operated blockchain-based platform, as per the TCCCPR introduced in 2018.

In its written petition filed last year, Paytm claimed that telecommunications operators were lax in implementing the new rule, allowing fraudsters to manipulate their customers by sending fake messages under duplicate headers. The allegations have been denied by Telcos and the regulator.

Earlier this month, the Delhi High Court directed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to ensure “strict and complete” enforcement of regulations by telcos on this matter.

The government has also decided to set up a nodal agency – Digital Intelligence Unit (DIU) – which will coordinate with teams across the Department of Telecommunications, telcos, and financial institutions in investigating any fraudulent activity involving telecom resources.

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Written by Jasspreet Kaur

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