POLICE INVESTIGATING the fake call centre racket that they claimed to have busted earlier this month have learnt that the accused in the case originally came together to launch an ayurvedic company in the international market.
In the beginning, investigators believed that the group was connected to a larger nexus. However, a probe later showed that the group of five were awaiting a licence from the Food Corporation of India (FCI).
According to police, however, the process got delayed and the five accused decided to extort money from US citizens in order to pay the rent of their shop and salaries of the employees they had hired to sell their product in the market.
When a police team from Goregaon, assisted by a team from Dindoshi, raided the premises at Motilal Nagar in the early hours of July 5, where the alleged fake call centre was being run, they were surprised to see that the accused were working under the banner of ‘VedEssence Ayurvedic Company’.
Police said they believed it to be a fake company that they might have used to cover up their criminal activities. But it was during the investigation that they learnt that their original plan was to sell ayurvedic products.
The police raid led to the arrest of the five accused, identified as Naeem Khan, Abhishek Salian, Asif Lanjekar, Yogesh Sharma and Pradeepkumar Saha. Police said they would call US citizens, posing as internal revenue service officials, and extort money.
During the course of the investigation, police also learnt that Khan, Salian and Lanjekar were partners in VedEssence Ayurvedic Company, and were working together for the past three years. They even had a factory in Vasai and the business was majorly funded by Lanjekar, police added.
“Earlier this year, the group decided to take their company into the international market as that would have helped them increase their profit margin. For this, they contacted Sharma for promoting their venture. Khan knew that Sharma had worked at a call centre for several years and believed that his experience would help them in promoting their company internationally,” an officer said.
Khan’s father runs a garment factory while Sharma’s father owns a garment store in the western suburbs through which the two were introduced to each other, police said.
After the four agreed on certain terms, they roped in Saha, who took care of the IT department, police said.
Police further said with an intention to execute their plan further, they hired nine employees, whose job was to make international calls and promote their ayurvedic products. They took two floors of 1,000-sq ft each, at Motilal Nagar in Goregaon for which they were paying a rent of Rs 75,000, police added.
“They had all the respective licences to operate in India but in order to sell their product in the international market, they should have a licence from the FCI. They applied for it four months ago but as it got delayed they got into criminal activity. They had planned to do this until they got their licence to operate internationally,” an investigator said.
On the one hand they were paying the rent, bills and employees’ salaries while on the other, their plan to launch their product in the international market was on hold owing to a permit from FCI, police said.
As they started running out on money, Sharma pitched an idea of duping American citizens by scaring them into believing that their social security numbers had been misused, following which they earned Rs 18 lakh within a month-and-a-half, which they mainly used to pay off outstanding bills, police said.
“When Sharma was working in a call centre, he came across such a scam and had even attempted to dupe US citizens but as he failed, he continued with his job,” an officer said.
According to police, Sharma said he learnt these “tricks” from Sagar Thakkar’s blog on the Dark Net.
Thakkar is the mastermind in the Rs 1,900-crore Mira Road call centre scam that was busted in 2016.
“In his blog, they got information about a software, using which they could send text messages to several US citizens. They said they were representatives of a government tax authority and were being informed that their social security numbers had been compromised. This message also contained a phone number to contact for help,” said the officer.
The messages were sent using voice internet protocol to all those whose data the accused had illegally procured, police said.
Police said Sharma was also guided to the sixth accused, identified as Junaid Dave, in Gujarat, who helped them with the contact number of a person in Hyderabad who sold them contact numbers, addresses and social security numbers of 1,000 US citizens at Rs 7,000.
Dave was recently arrested from his residence but the investigators are still on the lookout for people who supplied details of US citizens.
“He is currently on the run. His arrest will lead us to the main accused in the call centre racket,” said an investigator.