In a first, the Mumbai police, as part of the Social Service Branch (SSB) crackdown on prostitution rackets masquerading as escort services, traced the contact numbers listed in advertisements to addresses of demolished illegal structures.
Almost all the numbers supplied by escorts — sourced from advertisements in newspapers, public graffiti and social media, although active, were found to have addresses of slum shacks that have been either demolished or of dilapidated buildings with no habitation.
A crucial component of the rackets – the contact numbers that these ‘services’ list in their advertisements – is under police scrutiny. In March, Newsline had reported how the SSB, after several failed attempts to get websites offering escort services taken off the internet, had launched a crackdown on such rackets, going through websites and newspaper classified, identifying escort services which are actually fronts for prostitution and then taking action against them.
“SIM cards of numbers used in such rackets are bought using either forged documents or incorrect information. All the numbers we have verified so far were found to have given false addresses at the time of registration, including addresses of demolished illegal structures. We are making a list of all such numbers, which we will send to the service providers, bringing the fraud to their notice, and ask them to disconnect these numbers,” said a senior SSB officer.
Officials said those who ran prostitution rackets under the guise of escort services only used these numbers to receive calls from customers, which limited the scope of tracing them through Call Data Records (CDR) analysis. “If a person uses a particular phone for work as well as for interacting with family and friends, we can get leads as to his movements by making inquiries with the people who know him, which we identify on the basis of most dialed numbers in the CDRs.
However, in these cases, CDRs only lead us to customers, who are not of much use when it comes to apprehending the pimps, who are our main targets,” said DCP (Enforcement) Mahesh Patil.
Earlier, the SSB had started calling up the numbers in the advertisements with the help of decoy customers and fixing deals with the pimps or middlemen. The entire conversations were also being recorded so that they could be used as evidence later. While this tactic was a success in the beginning, the limited strength of the SSB proved a hurdle.
“With only 15 people in the SSB now, there are only so many permutations and combinations of personnel deployment that we can use. The past few times that we sent informants posing as customers, with our personnel following in plain clothes, the pimps made us travel from one point to another and finally called off the deal, saying that they had seen policemen following him,” an officer said.
The SSB is now targeting the contact numbers used by such rackets, hoping that the disconnection of the numbers will deal a body blow to the business as well as encourage better verification of customer details by cellular service providers.