"As per the directive from Govt. of India, it is mandatory to link Aadhaar with your mobile number. At XYZ, we always strive to make your experience with us better. Which is why, we have made it easy for you," reads an automated email sent to me earlier this morning. "Please follow the below mentioned steps to link your Aadhaar with your mobile number," it adds, saving me all the hassle of linking my 12-digit biometric unique identification number -- that the government wants every Indian resident to have - with my mobile number. Only, I am not too sure whether linking my Aadhaar with my mobile number is such a good idea, after all. Even more so after reading what Mumbai-resident Shashwat Gupta went through recently: a scam that duped him of Rs 1.3 lakh all under the pretext of linking his Aadhaar with his mobile number.
"A fraud, claiming to be from Airtel, gave me an ultimatum that Airtel would deactivate my SIM and block my number forever as I had not linked my Aadhar card to my SIM. He urged me to message my SIM card number to 121 (Official Airtel Service Number) and my SIM would be reactivated without any hassle. Little did I know that the fraudster would clone my SIM and loot all my hard earned money and also take away Investments (Fixed Deposits) that I had planned on using during the worst times of my life," Shashwat writes on Facebook. "I was under the impression that a person would require my account details or debit card or some sensitive information that only I have, that I have been safeguarding every minute of my life, to break my account. But the truth is all that sensitive stuff is already floating around the criminal world waiting to be raided," he adds.
Shashwat isn't the only one. Also, linking your mobile number with your Aadhaar isn't the only directive from the government of India. The government of India, in fact, wants every designated resident of India to have Aadhaar and make a 12-digit biometric unique identification number backbone of their very existence. Even as the government of India seemingly sets new deadlines, changes them once D-day arrives, and then sets new ones the anxiousness around Aadhaar is perplexing. And uncertainty around anything can lead to chaos and mayhem.
According to a report in the Scroll, "the police in Delhi and Noida have received more than 30 cases of fraud in which money was suspected to be siphoned out of bank accounts of victims with the help of a Unified Payment Interface-supported application linked to Aadhaar."
The modus operandi - as per the report that quotes Kislay Chaudhary, cyber security consultant to several government agencies and police departments in India - in all of the above cases involves a fraudster posing as a Unique Identification Authority of India representative calling random people asking them for their Aadhaar number and also the code sent to their phone from the UIDAI to complete the verification process. All of this is done on the pretext of linking their Aadhaar with their PAN. Once the fraudster gets a hold of their OTP, he/she can alter their registered phone number via the UIDAI website.
The fraudster can then download a UPI-supported mobile application which has access to all the bank accounts linked to the Aadhaar number linked to that phone (now modified by the fraudster) and once that is done, he/she basically gets full access to the victim's bank account and is free to initiate banking transactions thereon.
You can say in all of the above cases, the victims are in-part to blame as no government organisation/bank/telecom operator in their right mind would ask users to divulge sensitive information like OTPs in the first place, and that is right. The thing is, all filters go out of the window, when you're dealing with something as big as the Internet and even biometrics. Lapses on the part of users can't be avoided. Also, fraudsters becoming more and more sophisticated by the day can't be negated. So, how do you go about solving such problems? One is of course through awareness. The government of India, before making Aadhaar mandatory in all walks of life, should at least make the residents of India technically sound with all its plus and minus points.
By linking the Aadhaar with PAN and others, the government of India intends to solve the issue of people having multiple PAN cards and filing tax returns with them. The government of India views the linking of PAN and Aadhaar as an "effective anti-evasion measure" to fight the menace of black money. But, at the cost of confusion and lack of transparency, it seems. Unless there's more clarity and transparency in the way the government of India goes about handling the issue, there will be more confusion, chaos as well.
Only recently, the central government told Supreme Court that it is extending deadline to make Aadhaar mandatory for welfare services in India. The deadline was September 30 but now the government is extending it to December 31, which is also the deadline for people to link their bank accounts with Aadhaar. The same is true about linking Aadhaar number with PAN card as well. As for linking mobile numbers with Aadhaar, there's no clarity yet.