Helpful Apps Become the Fraudster’s Traps

When I was a young boy, I remember one of the fun games I used to play with my siblings was looking for our family and friends in the telephone directory. These extremely large books used to be dropped off once in a year, and for a full month this was our dedicated entertainment. When I told my children about this, there was blank faces and my youngest asked if the directory had pictures, to which I had to say “no!”.

Fast forward to the present, and privacy and security advocates are telling us to be very careful about our data. Most people who request fixed lines ask to be ex-directory to protect themselves.

However, we now have apps for everything, including new tools that at first seem to protect us from “bad hombres” (fraudsters), but which actually help the fraudsters to hurt us. One of these apps is TrueCaller. The TrueCaller app was designed to help us identify the persons that are calling us, allowing us to block fraudsters and spam before they reach us. The app works by collecting phone book contact data from the handsets of all users and uses this information to identify everybody. One does not have to install the app to be listed on the TrueCaller database. If one of your contacts has the app, then the app uses that information to list you. Secondly, the app has a nice function, in case you answer a call from a spam, you can indicate if the caller was a spammer and all future receivers of calls from this number are alerted of the same.

So, you may ask, “how are fraudsters using this app?”. Well the fraudsters have reverse engineered this app to identify you by your mobile number. The app allows the user to enter a mobile number and retrieve the details of the owner, as defined by other uses of the app.

On a nice Sunday afternoon, while you are watching the football game or the Eastenders omnibus, you receive a call from “Mr. Bad Hombre”, who says he is calling from your bank. He goes ahead to sweet talk you and he identifies you by your full name. Depending on what your contacts stored about you, he might have your home address and email details. I am sure you all know what happens next.

What am I trying to say? Be careful what you install on your mobile handset. The consequences might not affect you, but they might affect a nice person you once met at a conference in Barcelona. That person might be me! Protect your data privacy and most importantly protect the data you hold on your mobile handset.

Nixon Wampamba
Nixon Wampamba
Nixon is a General Manager in the Revenue Assurance & Fraud Management Centre of Excellence at MTN Group. His friends call him the most widely traveled man in RAFM because he has worked as a manager or consultant on every continent (except Antarctica).