On January 31 and February 1, Gautam Buddh Nagar district received two complaints against an “online trading portal”, with callers alleging they had been duped. What followed was the unearthing of a ponzi scam allegedly being run by 30-year-old Anubhav Mittal, which had duped around six lakh people of over Rs 3,700 crore.
The Special Task Force (STF) of the Uttar Pradesh police cracked down on the operations and arrested Mittal and two of his associates from Sector 63, Noida. A BTech graduate, Mittal started the scam in 2011 when he set up the company. While 50-year-old Sridhar Prasad, an MBA graduate, became the COO, 35-year old Mahesh Dayal oversaw the technical aspects, police said.
“UP STF investigated the functioning of Ablaze Info Solutions Pvt Ltd, which was running a scheme though an online media portal, socialtrade.biz. People were invited to the portal and were asked to deposit different amounts — in multiples of Rs 5,750 — in Ablaze accounts. They were promised money for ‘liking’ online links,” explained Amit Pathak, SSP, UP STF.
“We have seized printed and electronic documents. In order to freeze around Rs 524 crore, letters to authorities have been issued. There is a ban on such a scheme under many laws, especially the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978. Under this Act, any multi-level or pyramid structure scheme, also called ponzi scheme, cannot be run on a public domain or through social media,” Pathak said.
While the company’s registered address is in Chandni Chowk, police said no such office existed. Over six years, the company showed “exponential” growth in its earnings. Pathak said, “If we look at the business of this company — It was Rs 1 lakh in 2011, Rs 1.5 lakh in 2012, Rs 2.5 lakh in 2013, Rs 4 lakh in 2014 and Rs 9 lakh in 2015. In 2016, Rs 26 crore was on the balance sheet,” Pathak said. Police have sent the seized evidence to a forensic laboratory in Lucknow.
“The lab is conducting a systematic and scientific search. RBI cells and IT department have been alerted. The IT department is likely to conduct further raids. We have received account details of all members. All the URLs that members were supposed to ‘like’ led to a dead end. Their servers are in Ghaziabad; they had taken 12 servers on rent from a private company,” Pathak said.
According to UP police, as their teams tried to understand the modus operandi and looked into their accounts at various banks, they unearthed the alleged involvement of bank employees. “Some bank employees are associated with them and we will take action,” Pathak said.
With more than six lakh people affected, police say a major challenge is redressal of their complaints. “The number of complaints is increasing. How their money can be recovered, we are going to look into that,” he said.