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Sunday, September 19, 2021

WhatsApp group by two constables turns key weapon against cyber loot

The constables estimate that the initiative — on WhatsApp and later Telegram — has helped recover at least Rs 15 crore.

Written by Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai |
Updated: August 16, 2021 2:26:12 pm
Constables Pushpendra Yadav (Left) and Radharaman Tripathi set up the WhatsApp group in Gwalior in 2017. (Express )

Barely a fortnight ago, the daughter of a senior citizen in Mumbai’s Juhu rushed to the police: online fraudsters had looted Rs 75,000 from her father after convincing him to share his credit card details over phone. He had kept aside the money for his cancer treatment. And before the card could be blocked, the fraudsters had gone on an online shopping spree.

The police turned to the Crime Branch. And the Crime Branch turned to “Stop Banking Fraud”, a WhatsApp group started four years ago by two constables in Gwalior. What happened in the next five minutes is what this unique initiative by constables Pushpendra Yadav and Radharaman Tripathi is all about.

Responding to an official request posted on the group by a Crime Branch officer, a representative of the e-commerce site stopped the transactions. Now, all the police had to do was send an email for the money to be returned.

“Saving people’s hard-earned money from cyber criminals becomes a passion after a point,” says Yadav. “We have added officers from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to the group.”

Says Gwalior Cyber Crime SP Sudhir Agarwal: “The group was formed by the two constables from the cyber department nearly four years ago. It has helped us ensure that money lost to cyber crimes can be retrieved. Now, a web portal on similar lines has been started by the Ministry of Home Affairs.”

The constables estimate that the initiative — on WhatsApp and later Telegram — has helped recover at least Rs 15 crore.

“In cases of cyber crime, stopping the money at the right time is important. All the other formalities can be done later. And this group plays a vital part in bridging the gap when it comes to stopping fraudulent payments in time,” says a senior police officer in Mumbai.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), cyber crimes for 2019 — the last available year for which data were released — rose to 44,546 cases from 27,248 registered a year earlier. Less than one in five cases were detected, as per the data.

“Even in cases of detection, where the accused are arrested, getting the money lost is a challenging task due to the layers of bank accounts used to channel it,” says the senior officer.

The “Stop Banking Fraud” WhatsApp and Telegram groups link officers from police forces across the country, and nodal representatives of 75 service providers and five major payment aggregators. Currently, the WhatsApp group has 256 members, and the Telegram group 2,231 members.

The aim is to get real-time feedback and action from nodal agencies and aggregators, especially in the “golden hour” — the first hour or two after the crime. Before these groups came into play, the traditional method was for police to send an email, and wait for the appropriate authority at the e-company to verify and take action.

For the two constables, it all started in March 2017 when aman, who had lost Rs 40000 to a fraud, cycled to the cyber station in Gwalior. With erratic power supply, the police could not send an email to the payment site where the money had been transferred. Yadav and Tripathi then called up the representative on the landline but were asked to send a message with details of the fraud. And yet, by the next day, Rs 32,000 had been saved.

“We thought that if we were able to save money in this way, we could help many more victims. With that thought, we started the WhatsApp group,” says Yadav.

It was not easy. Of the 20 members they added initially, only five stayed back. But the two constables did not give up. They started convincing officers, and representatives of online services, e-commerce sites and cash aggregators, to sign up. Once they were able to track and save more money, more people started joining in.

But for Yadav and Tripathi, it’s still those individual cases that give them the most satisfaction.

“Recently, a man lost Rs 1.2 lakh…money he had borrowed to arrange for his daughter’s wedding. He came to us and said he would commit suicide if the wedding was called off. The money had been used to make transactions on an e-commerce site. We quickly contacted the company on the group and within 20 minutes, Rs 1 lakh was saved,” Yadav says.

“The victim started crying and hugged me so hard that I couldn’t breathe. This sense of relief is what gives us satisfaction.”

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