Pune City police have invoked Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against nine persons arrested in connection with crimes related to Loan Apps.
The police recently claimed to have unearthed a major online extortion racket operating through Loan Apps with international links and masterminds suspected to be from China and Dubai.
Notably, this is the 100th MCOCA case registered under the supervision of Pune city police commissioner Amitabh Gupta against criminal gangs in the city.
While probing into two complaints of online extortion against Loan App operatives filed by Pune-based victims, the Cyber police station of Pune city recently busted two fake call centers in Bengaluru last month. So far, 18 persons have been arrested. Police have recovered data of about one lakh citizens across India, who may have been targeted by the Loan App racketeers.
The nine persons against whom MCOCA has been invoked include suspected gang leader Dhiraj Bharat Punekar (36) from Solapur along with his eight alleged aides identified as Shrikrishna Gaikwad (26) of Hadapsar, Pune, Swapnil Nagtilak (29), Pramod Ransingh (43) of Solapur, Samuel Kumar (40), Sayyad Pasha (23), Mubarak Baig (22) of Karnataka, Mujib Kandiyal alias Ibrahim (42), and Mohammed Maniyat (32) of Kerala. Punekar formed the gang which, over the last 10 years, committed crime through fake advertisements and online loan applications, police said.
According to the police, several online loan applications or Loan Apps created by fraudsters made their way to Google Play Store. Persons claiming to be working for these Loan Apps call people randomly, asking them to download the applications on their cell phones, they said. Once the Loan App is downloaded, its operatives gain access to the contact list, photographs and videos saved in the gallery in the cell phone of the user, police said. Within a few minutes of downloading the app, the user is given a loan ranging between Rs 500 and Rs 7,000 on immediate basis. Money is transferred into the bank accounts of the Loan App users, even if they have not asked for a loan, police added.
Within a week, the Loan App operatives starts making phone calls, demanding repayment of loan with a 30 to 300 per cent interest rate. The operatives then morph the photographs of Loan App users with obscene content and circulate it to the people in their phone contact list, police said. This way, money is extorted from Loan App users by showing threats to defame them, they added. Police said that such is the level of harassment that the users are forced to transfer the extortion money in different bank accounts through online transactions.
The money is later withdrawn from the bank accounts by the key racketeers based in different parts of the country and also abroad, police said.
In a recent incident, a victim was harassed and, by June this year, made to transfer about Rs 13.87 lakh into different bank accounts operated by the Loan App fraudsters. In another case, a woman was threatened and abused by Loan App operatives and Rs 1.11 lakh was extorted from her online between February and June this year.
In August, a Pune-based youngster died by suicide after allegedly being harassed by “Loan App” operatives. In another incident, reported in September, a woman who was getting repeated calls from Loan App employees for repayment of loan allegedly murdered her 70-year-old grandmother and robbed her valuables.
Since September 2020, MCOCA against 670 accused from 100 gangs
Ever since Amitabh Gupta took charge as the commissioner of Pune city police on September 20, 2020, MCOCA has been invoked against 670 persons from 100 gangs. MCOCA was invoked against seven gangs comprising 54 accused persons between September 20, 2020 and December 31, 2020. The next year, as many as 400 accused from 56 gangs were booked under MCOCA. From January 2022 till now, MCOCA has been invoked against 216 persons from 37 gangs. These included notorious gangs of Bandu Andekar, Nilesh Ghaiwal, Sachin Pote, Bapu Nayar, Suraj Thombre, Mahadev Adlinge and Akram Pathan, a press release stated. Charges against these gangs include narcotics trade, illicit-liquor manufacturing, murder, extortion and serious body offences.