Scammer target hotel listings on Google across India, pilgrimage cities most hit
Cyber-security researchers on Friday said they have discovered a scam campaign involving fake customer care numbers posted on hotel listings, especially in pilgrimage cities, on Google in India.
The scam campaign involves multiple sets of similar-looking hotel room images with the same background but different phone numbers written on them.
These images are uploaded by threat actors in the review section of the hotel listing to lure customers, according to researchers from AI-driven cyber-security firm CloudSEK.
“The phone numbers are written so that Optical Character Recognition (OCR) – a technology that extracts text from images, cannot read them but are readable by humans,” they revealed.
An in-depth analysis of the reviews posted by the threat actors revealed that they are not limited to any geographical area while targeting hotels and have posts across various states in India.
However, a major concentration of this campaign was observed in the pilgrimage cities with the likes of Jagannath Puri, Ujjain, and Varanasi.
Hotels and homestays from all price categories are being targeted in this campaign, said the team.
“The threat actors regularly create new Google accounts and use new phone numbers to keep the scam running. It remains to be seen whether this campaign is operated by a single actor or a group of people,a they added.
The researchers were able to uncover multiple Google accounts advertising different numbers.
Truecaller records indicate that around 71 per cent of the calls from the 19 fake numbers discovered during research were answered by individuals who could become victims.
On average, 126 calls were made from each number.
“Notably, the names associated with the scanned numbers on Truecaller profiles did not match the names linked to their Google accounts. Multiple Google accounts were observed advertising different phone numbers in a single hotel listing,” the CloudSEK team noted.
The impact of this scam campaign is significant, with fake customer care numbers being misused by scammers to lure customers of hotels, resulting in a monetary loss for the victim.
The hotels’ brand image is also being affected due to this scam, the researchers added.