On the night of August 8 in Ahmedabad, a police team raided a paan parlour shop near Vishwakarma temple in Chandlodia area of the city and detained Anish Joshi, Vishal Sharma and Dhruv Hingol, all aged 19 years. The team had received a tip that a gang had been involved in a cyber crime on Telegram, an encrypted messenger mobile application.
Upon interrogation, it was revealed that the trio had allegedly duped as many as 1,100 people to the tune of Rs 18 lakh in the past four months by offering victims fake, lucrative discounts on electronic gadgets on Telegram.
“These accused created three channels on Telegram app wherein they offered the latest cellphones, LED TVs and laptops at cheaper rates. The click bait often worked and when gullible victims contacted them, the accused sought 50% advance amount through PayTm or Google Pay. After the amount was sent, the victim’s number was instantly blocked. Their victims were not only from Ahmedabad or Gujarat, but other states as well,” said JJ Rana, police sub-inspector, Sola High Court police station.
The accused teenagers told the police that they had thought of the plan in the first phase of lockdown to make quick money.
In the midst of a global pandemic, the Cyber Crime Cell of Gujarat Police faces the dual challenge of not only thwarting financial fraud attempts from known hotspots, such as Jharkhand’s Jamtara, Rajasthan’s Bharatpur, Delhi-NCR or Haryana’s Mewat, but also keeping a check on the emerging trend of fraudsters from Gujarat using new modus operandi (MO) during the lockdown.
As per data released by the Cyber Crime Cell of Ahmedabad Police, over 15,300 complaints related to financial frauds have been received from all over Gujarat between January and July this year. Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot are the major centres from where the complaints originated.
“Out of these complaints, almost 14% of them were related to PayTm KYC (Know Your Customer) frauds, nine percent were OLX website related frauds, 13% were impersonation related frauds, while the remaining constitute of a variety of subheads as the MO in cyber crime is ever evolving. We have a dedicated team which keeps on researching new MOs,” said Amit Vasava, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Cyber Crime Cell.
On August 10 this year, the Ahmedabad Cyber Crime Cell busted a fake call centre racket being operated from a flat inside Godrej Garden city residential area in Ahmedabad. Four youths, Raj Rathod (25), Anurag Kushwaha (29), Ajit Singh Rajput (23) and Saurabh Sharma (26), were targeting US-based citizens and their MO was similar to that of dubious call centres in Delhi, Noida and Ghaziabad. The perpetrators impersonated as finance company agents and offered victims ‘payday loans’. Under this scheme, a short amount of loan ranging from 300-900 US dollars is offered for a short period of time with a steep interest rate and the loan is payable on the day the client gets income.
“The accused used certain applications to display American phone numbers whenever they called a victim and used to tell them that they have qualified for a payday loan, but the amount is not getting transferred to their account since their ‘credit score’ is less. The accused used to ask the victim to pay a minimum account to their finance company, so that their so-called loan amount can be passed.
The amount paid by victims was through Walmart or Ebay gift cards, which were later encashed by the accused,” said a police official at Cyber Crime Cell.
On August 12, the Ahmedabad Cyber Crime Cell arrested two accused, Sohil Khan Pathan and Mohsin Khan Pathan, both in their early twenties, from Rakhial area for allegedly duping almost 200 victims from the eight states of Gujarat, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Punjab. The duo was allegedly in touch with fraudsters from Jharkhand and obtained phone numbers and other data of lakhs of unsuspecting victims. Using the MO of the Paytm KYC update, they duped as many as 190 persons of Rs 1.13 crore in the past two years. Police recovered Rs 58.20 lakh along with three laptops, 39 SIM cards, two mobiles and three SIM boxes.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Gautam Kumawat, an ethical hacker and cyber safety expert, said, “There is a reason we are witnessing a surge in youngsters turning towards cyber crime in the lockdown period. Money is crunched and they find these criminal methods easy. A regular job will fetch them hardly Rs 15,000- Rs 20,000 per month. However, if they call 100 people on a daily basis and even if one or two of them get trapped in their phishing net, they end up earning Rs 15 lakh in a month.”
However, Cyber Crime Cell officials believe that they are well adept to handle the surge in financial frauds, be it from other states or originating from Gujarat.
“Our Incident Response Unit under the Cyber AASHVAST (Assured Assistance Service Helpline for Victims At Shortest Time) project has managed to freeze the accounts of over 2,500 victims and prevented Rs 5.62 crore from going into the accounts of fraudsters. We have removed over 200 fraudulent ads on OLX website and 197 phishing websites till now. Majority of the cases we encounter are still from the hotspots of Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Delhi-NCR. However, we are keeping a close scrutiny as to what’s happening in the state as well,” added Vasava.
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