Info-tech

Hackers running parallel cab-hailing platforms

PRIYANKA PANI TANYA THOMAS Mumbai | Updated on January 12, 2018

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Most illegal ‘operators’ use WhatsApp to build a community of users

Rohit Chaurasia (an alias), a software engineer with a large IT firm, has found a side business that brings him nothing less than ₹30,000 a month.

The 24-year-old developer from Pune is part of a network of hackers that has found a way to game cab-hailing platforms such as Uber and Ola to offer highly discounted rides to consumers.

Chaurasia, who did not want to reveal his real name, told BusinessLine that he is a part of a bigger network that has found a way to tweak the APIs (application programming interface) of the cab companies to break into their transaction system. A simple search done on Google led to at least a dozen such operators.

Modus operandi

Here’s how the ‘parallel Uber’ system works. Most of these illegal ‘operators’ use WhatsApp to build a community of users. So a user has to first join such a group. To book a ride, the user simply posts details of the pick-up and drop location on the group.

Operators then quote a price for this ride, which can be negotiated by the user. The operator then books the ride using his own Uber app. He then shares the details of the cab with the user. Post the ride, the user pays the operator the agreed price directly through Paytm, irrespective of what the final bill shows on the Uber driver’s device. The operator then breaches the payment system to make the driver and Uber believe that the payment has actually been made to them when in fact it is the fake operator who keeps the entire amount.

It is not clear how he hacks into the payment system but at the end of it the user gets a ride at least 60 per cent cheaper than what he would have had to pay through the legal channel.

BusinessLine called some of the numbers sourced from various Whatsapp groups. Most of the calls indicated that these hackers were operating either from Chennai or Bengaluru.

Double-edged sword

While such schemes benefit the users and the fake operators, they are eating into both Uber’s and Paytm’s revenues. According to cyber-security expert Pavan Duggal: “The flaw is in Uber’s system that it allows such a security breach.” Duggal, however, said people using such illegal schemes could become the victims of these hacker groups. As per Sections 43 and 66 of the IT Act, consumers also can be treated as co-accused and face three years’ imprisonment and a ₹5-lakh fine.

While Paytm, did not respond, an Uber spokesperson told BusinessLine that “occasionally, drivers and riders participate in activities which are against Uber policies. Most of these activities are defined as fraud, as in the current case... with the objective of making an unlawful monetary gain.” The cab operator urged consumers ṭo refrain from using such platforms or accept suspicious links from social media.

Published on February 13, 2017

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