Updated: March 27, 2020 9:25:24 pm
The civil services (preliminary) examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is scheduled for May 31, 2020. The candidates have been preparing for the exam amidst the 21 days lockdown in their homes taking online classroom sessions and online test series. However, fraudsters are equally active in this period trying very hard to trick the aspirants and steal money.
UPSC CSE candidates often receive promotional messages from coaching institutes marketing their preparation material and fraudsters also try to exploit students with similar messages. But this time, cybercriminals are sending alerts to aspirants regarding “important notification released due to Novel Coronavirus” with a link. We checked the link and here’s what we found.
The URL takes you to a website where there is no such notification but an advertisement for test series. “Due to COVID-19 all students Please stay home. Our Expert Team Specially Designed Tests and study material. For all UPSC CSE 2020 aspirant [sic].”
The website mentions that their test series is designed by “professor from top university due to COVID-19” in order to help poor students. Usually, the price of IAS (Prelims + Mains) test series is priced at Rs 40,000 but the website claims to offer the test-series for as little as Rs 699, which is also refundable within 48 hours.
The website also claims to offer free Netflix subscription “due to COVID-19”.
With just a simple look at the website and its grammatically incorrect sentences makes it clear that this isn’t a legit website but is a scam. However, the domain “iitmadras.online/upsc.html” ends up making it look authentic for some users — especially to marginalised aspirants who don’t have enough money to enroll with a test-series program run by reputed coaching institutions. We dug deeper to find the truth of the site.
According to who.is, the domain was registered on August 21, 2019 by one Rudra Pratap from Guntur, Andhra Pradesh and expires on August 21, 2020.
Once you click on registration link on the web page, it takes you to another website wooe.in — a fairly looking site claiming to offer test series for multiple competitive exams at a nominal fee with the promise of a refund. In my investigation, I found that the refund never really happens and the claims are false just to trick aspirants. Following are some screenshots of users who complained about the portal on Quora and consumercomplaints.in:
I also discovered that to build its image as a genuine test series provider, Wooe has built a net of positive reviews around the internet including a long list of praises on Quora. Users who posted positive reviews of Wooe.in at Quora also claimed that it is run by IIT Madras.
However, IIT Madras has denied its association with any such portal. Following is the notice issued by the IIT Madras:
Wooe is not alone in running fake test-series or online coaching programs with prices too real to be true. Somehow, they get a hold of mobile numbers of government job aspirants and send them messages promoting their fake services. Unfortunately, lots of users fall for it and lose money.
How to identify these scams
* If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. There is no way, a private organisation will provide Rs 40,000 worth of test series for Rs 699, that too with free Netflix subscription for a year.
* If the message or website in question has grammar mistakes, it is probably fake that has been built in haste for the sole purpose of scamming people.
* Look at the URL carefully. Most of these make-shift websites register a domain that gives it an impression of association with a reputed institute— in this case, IIT Madras. Check for the association. If IIT Madras would have been providing test series, you can find it with a simple Google Search. Also, if you just search IIT Madras, you will get to know that the institute’s URL is iitm.ac.in and not iitmadras.online.
* Don’t trust random educational portals. Do your research before subscribing to any test-series or online course. In the case of Wooe, it is not easy to identify it based on its website alone but the cheap test-series amount should ring a bell in your head.
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* If you belong to financially weaker section and want to prepare for competitive exams, look out for government-aided coaching institutions. You can apply for free coaching programs and will be required to appear in a test to get enrolled.
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