Reliance Communications: The Scam of the Millennium

by Shijaz Abdulla on 21.09.2009 at 23:57

image More than five years ago, when I was a student in India, I had acquired a home broadband connection from Reliance Communications. They offered a ‘fixed wireless terminal’ (FWT) solution which made use of their mobile wireless network to give internet access to homes without the need for any cables or ‘landlines’.

As I remember, neither the upload nor the download speed was anywhere close to what they promised. In other words, the Reliance broadband service sucked big time.

But wait – that’s not the reason for this post.

Back in 2004, I terminated their connection because I was leaving the country in search of a job in the Gulf. As per their termination process, I went to the Reliance Infocomm office in Kannur, Kerala (the one at Thavakkara, near Police Club – “Nikshan Associates”), and asked for a complete, final bill. I paid it down to the last rupee, got a receipt for my payment and surrendered the equipment (the FWT) back to them.

I proceeded to Bahrain and got employed there.

More than 6 months later, I got calls from my friends in India stating that they were repeatedly getting harassed by Reliance Infocomm recovery agents/debt collectors. They complained to me that these goons from Reliance kept calling them up telling them that I owe Reliance an amount of money in ‘unsettled bills’ and went to the extent of threatening my friends, who were never involved in this matter.

Either their entire billing system is flawed, and they are just too stupid – Or, this is a gimmick to penalize subscribers who terminated their pathetic service.

In other words, this was:

  • Breach of, (if not absence of) a Privacy Policy
  • Unsolicited communication to my friends who had nothing to do with reliance
  • Unjustified act of personal insult/disrepute to me

My friends gave me the phone number of a lady who was repeatedly bothering them. I called up this lady (in Ernakulam) and gave her a piece of my mind. I told her the story about my termination of the line, and how I settled bills and returned the equipment. She apologized and promised that she will not call any more of my friends.

I also wrote to customercare@relianceinfo.com about this disappointing experience – they merely replied that they forwarded my complaint to Kerala team and there was no response after that from anyone – despite repeated follow-ups.

Now, in 2009, more than 5 years after terminating my connection, I got a Lawyer Notice from P.R. Radhakrishnan & Associates, who happen to be their ‘legal’ associates. The Lawyer letter (produced below), in Malayalam language, states (threatens) that I owe Reliance Communications Rs. 2563.34(less than 54 USD) and if I don’t pay up, they’ll take me to court!

Well, can you beat that?

How many of you keep receipts for your paid telephone bills for a period of 5 years? Well, I don’t.  And Reliance somehow guessed that – this means I have absolutely no proof to show in court – so they have taken me for a ride.

I did a simple search online, and found that there were hundreds of other people in various parts of India, who have fallen to similar scams from this seemingly ‘reputable’ telco giant.

Now, its not the $54 that I’m worried about it. It’s the harassment that they did to me and my friends, and the well-orchestrated scam that they are systematically carrying out.

Reliance Communications knows for sure that virtually nobody keeps records of paid phone bills for 5 years, and they are bent on penalizing subscribers who don’t take crappy service for long.

Now what do I do?

I live in a different region of the world, and my time just isn’t worth fighting a battle in an Indian court for $54 with no proof in my defense. The letter suggests that I make an ‘out of court’ settlement by paying the bill for Reliance + “legal fees” for their intimidating legal goons. That’s exactly what I’m doing now – let them go to hell with it. A cousin in India will meet them to settle the unfair dues, although not without a stinker.

This is not about $54. Multiply $54  with all customers that Reliance Communications have conned. This is how they make some extra revenue. And ‘P.R. Radhakrishnan & Associates’ is probably making a handsome amount out of this scam too, Rs. 750 legal fees for sending each letter, is not bad. 🙂

At the end of the day, I am a victim. The innocent consumer is the victim.

I’m writing this firsthand to let all Indian internet users know that Reliance Infocomm has a track record for such systematic malpractices waged against the dignity of self-respecting individuals – in short, they are a huge scam. So, if you are an unsatisfied Reliance broadband customer (which you would most likely be), and you want to terminate their service, make sure you keep a record of all your payments to them for at least 6 – 10 years. Also ask them to give you a ‘no dues’ certificate and keep it safe, especially if your payments are usually large amounts. Do it so that you have sufficient proof to defend yourself in court, when they take you to court 5 years down the line.

If you already got a Lawyer Notice, fight for truth – if you have the proof – or at least make it known to the world. You can post your comments/experiences below by clicking on ‘Comments’.

Here’s the Lawyer Notice I received:

Untitled-1

Reliance: Kar Lo Duniya MITTI mein!

Kerala police nabs Nigerian email fraudster

by Shijaz Abdulla on 09.08.2009 at 11:36

How many times have we got one of those emails from an African country, promising us a large reward for letting them use our bank account to transfer money?

You might think that in this day and age, people are aware of such fraudulent acts and do not fall into such traps. Wrong! There’s still a  large number of people who fall for such things, as in the case of Sherif, an Indian living in Doha – who happens to hail from the same Indian district that I am from – Kannur.

As per a newspaper report, Sherif paid the Nigerian guy about $80,000 as ‘processing fee’ for transferring $150,000 to his bank account in Kerala, India. He eventually got ‘suspicious’ when the Nigerian kept asking for more money and complained to the Cyber Cell of the Kerala Police.

The cops set a trap for the Nigerian, Shabha Muhammed Razaq, and asked him to come to Bangalore to collect more money. Razaq walked into the police trap and he was caught with counterfeit US currency, fake passports and some chemicals (?!).

scamRazak was part of a much bigger gang engaged in internet fraud in India and admitted tricking many people living in other Indian states.

A great job done by the Cybercops of Kerala! However, the general public need to be more alert and aware about such scams, that take advantage one basic human instinct – greed!

Dying hard

by Shijaz Abdulla on 05.09.2007 at 10:43

I normally don’t blog about anything thats not technical enough. But this was asking for it.

Some of my readers who saw ‘Live Free or Die Hard 4’ said that they were fascinated by the technical possibility of the feats demonstrated by hackers in the movie. I’m not really the movies guy — but yielding to the awe of the readers, I was tempted to watch it.

Many have asked me “Can they really do it some day to a country?”; “Is IT warfare real?”, etc.

I’m not a movie critic and this is definitely not a movie review. This is a serious (ahem!) technology blog. So what’s ‘Die Hard 4’ doing here? Damn, I started this post, so let me begin and let me end. I promise to keep it technical.

1. How can simply copying financial information (or ‘downloading’ it – as in the movie) help the hackers steal money? Tell me how you can get rich just by copying a bank’s database to a portable hard drive?

2. The so-called “Financial Records” are 500 TB (Terabytes) as per the message on the screen and Hacker 101 says he’s going to copy the data to a portable hard drive. I’ve never seen a 500TB portable drive. Have you?

3. Every time they want to hack a system (traffic lights, tunnels, F11 controllers, CCTV cameras), our Harry Potter hacker boy just punches some buttons on his keyboard and says “we’re in”. Is it really that simple?
The encryption technologies of today require hundreds of computers working together for months and years to crack just one key, that may give access to just one system. And of course, within this long period, the key itself may change. The government of any country would not be dumb enough to protect all their systems with just one key, and passwords/keys will change frequently.

4. In the story, if system breaks, it ‘downloads’ all the data to a machine in a remote location. What kind of disaster recovery solution is that?! Data to a disaster recovery center is usually replicated in real time/periodically and does not ‘begin’ when an outage happens.

5. I believe there is always a way to manual over-ride things like traffic lights and power grids. Even when a hacker has control over traffic lights, I don’t think those systems allow anyone to set ‘green’ on every lane! I’m not a developer, but has anyone heard of user input validation?

6. How did they manage to blow up hacker good-boy’s computer when he pressed the delete button? If they were around, why didn’t they just plant a remote-controlled bomb in his apartment. Would have been more reliable 😉

7. When they played images of blowing up government buildings, why did hacker boy have to type the messages that were being posted on TV screens manually at the time of broadcast. Couldn’t he write a simple script or at least copy-paste it from Notepad?

8. Why couldn’t somebody at the television station just physically pull the plug off the transmitter? Isn’t it better to have no transmission than to broadcast as per the hacker’s whims and fancies?

9. I wonder why some of the IP addresses are from the private IANA range – 10.x.x.x, 192.168.x.x. Were they hacking the US govt, or the neighbor’s PC?

10. Those racks in the server room look strange. Why do the servers make wierd noises when our hackerboy presses a key?

Here’s the bottom line: I don’t think that an attack of such magnitude can be done with today’s available security technologies at least for a reasonable time into the future. And beyond that – as they say – ‘Security Transcends Technology’.

More Nigerian email hoaxes

by Shijaz Abdulla on 28.01.2007 at 18:12

Most of us are already aware of email hoaxes involving Nigerian beneficiaries asking you to help them get their money and offering you a copious sum for the “assistance”. Well, here’s an all-new range of hoaxes. These target job seekers!

Click on image to zoom

Here’s the text of the email message (I’ve marked the ridiculous parts in red , my comments are in red italics: hope you enjoy it!)

JOBREF:CH/21563
DATE: 28/01/07
CLIENT/EMPLOYER:CNL(CHEVRON NIGERIA LIMITED)
LABOUR CONSULTANT: WWW.NAUKRIGULF.COM
RECRUITMENT AGENCY: UNION RECRUITMENT CONSULTANTS
ATTN:ENGR……… , (What a beautiful way to address you!)

At UNION RECRUITMENT CONSULTANTS we specialise in engineering career moves
for professionals engaged in the E&P sector. Interestingly, most of
our clients are not actively looking for a new job, but are keen to
consider the right opportunity.
We listen carefully to what is important to you with regard to
career, family and lifestyle. We then use our connections and
investigative skills (yeah, right) to identify interesting opportunities that meet
your criteria. Some of the moves we engineer are ‘in-country’, but
the vast majority are international placements (world wide) with
some of the best companies in the industry.

DETAILS:
union recruitment consultants; with the mandate to recruit expatriate
services employees’ for the fulfillment of the requirements of nlng “GAS FLARING PROJECT (what the hell is that???) in Nigeria, seek to write your consent after recommendation from our labour consultants (http://www.naukrigulf.com/) recent expatriate vacancies with
our client.

CNL intends to invite prime experienced individuals/expatriates
capable of rendering expertise services in fields below:
a) Petroleum Engineering
b) Drilling Services
c) Civil Engineering
d) Computer Engineering
e) Architect Engineering
f) Marine Engeenering (hmmm…)
g)Mechanical Engineering
h)Electrical Engineering
i)Electronics-Telecommunication Engineering
j)Surveying Engineer
k)Aerospace Engineering (all this for a GAS FLARING project!!!)
And others (what was that supposed to mean?)

PROJECT SHALL REQUIRE:
A cooperate project management team, engineering, procurement,
construction, transportation and installation, safety, drawing,
Designs, Geological services,maintenance and commissioning.
Entitlement, Compensation and Benefits packages include:
. A very attractive net salary paid in US$, Sterling or Euros
equivalent depending on employee
home country and currency preference.
. Quality single or family housing accommodation in company
community.

. Free medical care in Nigeria for employee and family.
. Excellent educational assistance benefits with family status
employment.
. Paid airfares allowing full flexibility with holiday travel. (whats that?)
. Personal effects shipment and excess baggage allowances.
. Full access to some of the finest and social recreational
facilities in Nigeria.
CONTRACT DURATION:
Level 1: 12 Months, (One Year) and renewably only on satisfactory
performance by employee.

Level 2: Full time
Interested candidates must have not less than 3 years experience in
any of the above listed fields.
Interested candidates should forward their resumes/CV with
verifiable reference(s) as word attached document to:
EMail:unionrecruitment_consultants@yahoo.com (Why yahoo.com?)
Interested candidates are also required to contact our Nigerian
Local Office strictly for the purpose of this project.

CONTACT: DR.OGBUJA OKEMINI
Head Of Union Recruitment Consultants (Why is the head of Union Recruitment Consultant contacting you directly?)
Nigeria.
TEL: (+234) 80-64438276
FAX : (+234)82-30 856

**ends**

This is the second hoax mail I’ve received in the past two weeks. The earlier one was supposedly from Shell UK. I thought I’d join in the fun and sent my CV across. Immediately after, I get my “employment agreement” with a whopping salary attached to it – with NO interview. The contract shows Shell UK website is at http://www.shelluk.com/ – there is no such web site!! Two days later somebody calls me on my phone – out of the blue – and tells me I need to sign the document and send them back. Then an “attorney” would contact me, to discuss “what I should do to get my work permit”. Oh yeah – and that’s where the money part comes.

So next time you receive anything in your email, be very sure whom you’re dealing with!

Update:

  • There is also a new scam going around from Omni Hotel, Canada. It’s fake. More info here.

Fake Microsoft emails

by Shijaz Abdulla on 21.01.2007 at 17:52

Today I received a mail, supposedly from Microsoft, regarding a “security vulnerability”:

Click on the image to zoom

It had an EXE attachment “installation689.exe”. The message was written in the kind of language Microsoft uses to communicate with its customers – clear, courteous and concise explaining clearly what the update is for, etc. The first thing a novice (or even an intermediate) user would do, is to download the attachment and install the patch.

It even had the classic Microsoft footer:

Click on the image to zoom

Now, there are a few things that are revealed upon closer examination:

  • The “from” address is suspicious: Network Security Center [xclocltwp@confidence.microsoft.net]. (Hmmm…)

  • It addresses you as “MS” customer. It also uses terms like “MS Internet Explorer” and “MS Outlook”. Microsoft officially doesnt use “MS” to address itself :). (Hmmm Hmmm…)

  • Microsoft NEVER (never never ever) sends an update out to its customers as an email attachment.

  • Microsoft update files normally have a filename that start with the letters “KB” followed by the KB article number.

What a clever way to outwit the unsuspecting user! So those of you out there, beware of stuff that comes in your e-mail! Think twice before you run an EXE attachment.

From my experience, 9 out of 10 EXE attachments are viruses. Sometimes they appear to come from people you know, because they are actually sent by malicious programs that have already infected their machines.