A forty-one-year-old Catholic priest lost 46,000 Indian Rupees (USD 614.52) to a phone scam in the coastal Indian state of Goa.
The afternoon of December 20, Father Costa* received a phone call requesting an immediate recharge of the mobile calling service. The caller stated that the priest’s SIM card would be deactivated if the recharge was not done quickly.
The phone rang when Father Costa was immersed in Advent reconciliation service preparation for the evening. The priest had taken over as the new parish priest in June 2021. It was the priest’s first appointment as a parish priest, and he wanted to get things organized. Nine priests were expected to come for the confession service later that evening.
After hearing the caller, Father Costa panicked. He had migrated the Jio SIM to Vodaphone Idea, another service provider, for better connectivity in the new place of residence.
Father Costa had opted for yearly prepaid service, and there were no outstanding payments with the mobile company.
The caller suggests a 10.00 Indian Rupees (INR) recharge to avoid service disruption.
“To my bad luck, I had shifted the new SIM card to an Android phone to handle the transition,” the priest told RVA News. The priest primarily uses iPhone.
Father Costa told the caller that he could not do the transaction as he had not downloaded the new app on the current mobile. But the caller suggested paying via ATM card, and the priest was provided a link to pay the amount.
“The moment I entered the numbers of the ATM card, I received a One Time Password (OTP),” the priest recalled. “When they asked me for the OTP, I refused to share it.”
Nevertheless, the priest received an SMS stating that the transaction was successful as INR 10.00 was deducted from his bank account.
“I was shocked when I received another SMS that INR 45,000 was debited from my account,” Father Costa expressed in disbelief. And within minutes, the priest received another SMS that INR 1,000 was credited.
Within a minute the priest lost INR 46,010.00 from his saving account. It’s like losing almost six-month stipend of a diocesan priest.
The priest checked on his online banking app to find that “the money is gone.”
“It was hard to believe, that I am conned,” the priest says that he cautions about such tricksters.
The confession service went ahead as planned. But the priest had to follow the long winding legal road, handle embarrassment and bear the loss of his earned savings.
On the following day, the priest instructed the nearby State Bank of India (SBI) branch to block the ATM Debit card and filed FIR at the local police station on December 22.
Father Costa stated that the police identified it as a phone-hacking scam, but they could not do anything about it.
The priest then drove nearly 40 kilometers to instruct the home bank branch to freeze the account, reporting what had happened. The bank official expressed helplessness, assuming the priest had shared the OTP with the caller.
“Even without sharing the OTP, I am surprised how the amount is deducted from the bank,” the priest said.
The priest then made a written complaint to the bank stating the case. He also wrote an email to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the country’s federal bank, about the breach of his bank account.
The bank and RBI rejected the complaints, holding the priest accountable for the transaction.
However, the priest gave another complaint to the bank on January 17.
“As per the bank’s instruction, I have given an undertaking that the SBI ATM card was in my possession and I have not shared the OTP with the caller,” said Father Costa. He wants to remain optimistic amid a helpless situation.
Father Costa confessed that there is around INR 19,000 remaining in his bank account. The bank has advised the priest to keep the account frozen and hopes the amount lost is debited back to the original owner.
“It is highly unlikely, but the bank offered hope that in some cases the money has been refunded,” Father Costa said.
The bank had advised closing the account, irrespective of the lost money. “I will keep it for some time to see if the lost money comes back to the account,” the priest said.
Before travelling to the bank, the priest had checked the number on the caller ID. “It showed as SIM Service Centre,” Father Costa says.
The priest informed that the police refused to go ahead with the inquiry as “some innocent people will be held guilty.”
The police told the priest that the hackers indulge in identity theft by breaching people’s phone data and leading the investigation to catch innocent people.
“I have been informed about another phone scam related to the COVID-19 vaccination. The caller requests to PRESS the number one on the phone dialer pad to confirm if the person has taken both the doses of the vaccine,” the priest said.
Father Costa feels “horrible” and wonders how he fell for the tricks of these phone scammers.
*Original name of the priest withheld to maintain anonymity.
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.