Mallika Kodali of Google Pay talks about UPI scams and Google's steps to ensure users safety. (Express Photo: Mohammad Faisal)
With the rising popularity of UPI-based payments, scammers are flourishing as unsuspecting users fall victim to a new kind of online fraud. We recently discussed how fraudsters are tricking Google Pay, PhonePe, and BHIM app users into transferring money, but these methods are not the only way people are being fooled.
The Unified Payment Interface or UPI is a relatively new method for banking and payment. Users are not fully aware of its functionality which gives the fraudsters an upper hand. We spoke to the Mallika Kodali, Product Manager for Google Pay to discuss the growing popularity of UPI-based payments apps in India, associated scams, and what Google does to ensure a safer payment eco-system. Here is an excerpt of the edited email conversation.
How do you see the growing preference of UPI based payments apps in India?
UPI is the fastest growing payment rails in India and it's a model that many countries around the world are now exploring. This explosive growth has also brought into the fold, several users who are new to digital payments. Thus there is a growing need to educate and raise awareness among these users about how to transact online safely.
As the popularity of UPI is growing, its success has also caught the attention of bad actors-- like what happened with ATMs many years ago. The responsibility lies with the financial ecosystem to create awareness among users on how to stay safe and how to protect themselves from financial fraud.
With the growing use of UPI-based payment apps, incidents of fraud have also increased. We think that most of that has to do with the user not being fully aware of UPI apps' functionality. What's your view on this?
In my opinion, user awareness is key. As part of our user education drive, we have launched large scale campaigns and are engaging with key members of the media to drive awareness. Our campaigns feature large-format press ads, educational videos, and social media outreach. Besides that, we have invested in an industry-wide program called, 'Digital Payment Abhiyan' which was launched at Google for India in 2019.
It has been going on for four months in partnership with Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, NPCI, all major banks, payment networks like Mastercard, Visa and other fintech companies. So, it's a collective ecosystem effort because as we know, as any new technology becomes popular, we must work collectively to ensure that users are empowered with knowledge on how to use it safely.
With Digital Payments Abhiyaan, we seek to arm users with relevant know-how about transacting safely online through detailed ads, tutorials and other outreach efforts.
Mallika Kodali Product Manager GPay
What could be the preventive measure to avoid these online frauds?
Fraudsters often call out of context, randomly, and pose as someone from your bank, app, or credit card company. The purpose of their calls is to collect your sensitive data. When you receive a call from an unknown number, be very alert.
If the caller claims to be calling from your bank/retailer/insurance and the conversation turns to ask information about government IDs, documents, personal financial data like your PIN, bank account number, UPI ID, immediately disconnect!
You are not required to ever reveal these details to anyone, no matter how convincing they sound. In cases where you might be expecting a call -- for example if you contact your bank or insurance company for some work and are expecting an update. Even in such cases, beware of the person on the call. Fraudsters give you information about a recent order etc to come across as authentic, but then go on to ask for sensitive financial information like your PIN, OTP, or password.
Is Google doing anything to ensure the safety of Google Pay users from online fraud?
The security infrastructure of the Google Pay app is evolving rapidly to stay ahead of emerging fraud trends. Some examples of this include:
Enhanced fraud protection with SafetyNet: Beyond the 'one device - one account' safeguards offered by UPI, Google Pay is secured with Google Pay advanced fraud models and backed by Google's authentication platform, ensuring world-class protections against fraud attacks and faster identification and suspension of fraudsters.
Secure access: The PIN entry screens in Google Pay have been secured against remote desktop attacks since the early days of the app's launch, keeping our users safe, even when widespread scams have affected other digital payments users.
Blocking fraudsters from getting on to Google Pay: Our exhaustive risk relations check at the onboarding stage prevents known bad actors from recreating their accounts on the app.
Scam protection: Since its launch, Google Pay uses machine learning-based scam prevention models and displays explicit warnings if a user receives a request from someone suspicious or not in their contacts.
Explicit language and prominent warnings during collect requests: Collect requests as flow are unique to UPI and thus might be new to several users. For this reason, Google Pay displays very clear and prominent warnings to the user about what it entails at each step.
Google Pay interface to send and receive money using UPI.
Additionally, to help our users fully understand each step on the app, we have now launched notifications and SMS alerts to clarify the direction of the flow of money. Google Pay now sends app notifications as well as SMS to inform users each time they receive a collect request to highlight that approving the request will deduct money from the users' bank accounts.
PhonePe and Paytm have options for Pay later. Is Google Pay doing something on the same lines?
Currently, there are no plans around this. Our approach is typically more around the areas that we need to work on to make this a more helpful platform for our users. There are various opportunities that we are evaluating, but nothing to announce at this point in time.
Why did you change the name of your payment from Tez to Google Pay?
We initially launched our payment app in India as Tez. Fortunately, it was met with resoundingly positive user response which encouraged us to take our learnings from Tez global. That's when we unified all of Google's payment offerings globally and that is when Tez became Google Pay.