The Pune City Police has arrested three Nigerian nationals in Delhi for allegedly defrauding and extorting Rs 3.98 crore from a 60-year-old woman in Pune. The accused, Jango Nicolas (29), Monday Okeke (26) and Paulinus Mbanugo (29), currently reside in Nilothi Extension, New Delhi.
The Case: From gift fraud to online extortion
The woman, who is the complainant in this case, works in a very senior position in a private company. Last year, she came in contact with a person on Facebook who claimed to be from a foreign country.
This person was an online fraudster but posed as someone in a prominent position by pretending to have assistants and accounts managers, police said.
Over the next few months, the complainant and the fraudster communicated frequently, exchanged phone numbers and started conversing on WhatsApp, police said.
Some time later, it was the complainant’s birthday and the fraudster told her he had sent her a high end iPhone as a gift, police said. From this point on, large sums of money were taken from the complainant on the pretext of customs clearance at Delhi Airport and other false reasons, police said. The fraudster even claimed he had been arrested after reaching India and demanded money to arrange his release and for medical treatment, police said.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Cyber Crime and Economic Offences) Bhagyashree Navtake said, “In this case, the online criminals initially started taking money on the pretext of sending gifts like iPhone, jewellery and foreign currency and for various false reasons like customs clearance and other formalities for these gifts. The complainant was promised that she would be compensated for the money she was giving…She had made transfers of funds up to Rs 1 crore for these gifts. However, what started as a gift fraud turned into online extortion. The suspects started threatening her with various legal actions. She was told that there were illegalities involved in the items she had paid for and she would face action from government agencies. She transferred even more money under these threats.”
Senior Police Inspector D S Hake said the complainant ended up transferring Rs 3,98,75,500 to online fraudsters in as many as 207 transactions from two bank accounts. The money was transferred to 67 bank accounts of 25 banks
between September 2020 and March 2021.
According to an official from the Pune City Police, this could be one of the highest sums of money that an individual has lost in a gift fraud case being probed by any police body in the country.
An FIR in this case was lodged at the Cyber police station in April this year. The accused have been booked under sections 419 (cheating by personation), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) and 385 (putting person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion) of the Indian Penal Code and sections of the Information Technology Act.
The Probe: Arrest and seizures
A police team launched a probe into the social media accounts, phone numbers and bank accounts used by the online fraudsters in this case. Probe revealed that the accused were based in New Delhi.
A police team reached Delhi and arrested the three accused on Wednesday evening from an area where hundreds of Nigerian nationals reside. As many as 23 mobile handsets, four laptops, a hard disc, five internet cards, three pen drives, eight cell phone sim cards, three debit cards and other documents were seized from the three accused, police said.
The accused came to India on student and business visas but got involved in cyber frauds, police said.
“A Delhi court has granted transit remand of two accused persons while one was given conditional bail. The two accused will be produced before a court in Pune and their custody will be sought for further investigation,” said Senior Inspector Hake.
DCP Navtake added, “While the arrest of the three has turned out to be an important breakthrough, we have recovered data of at least 70 to 80 cases of similar gift frauds done by them. Some of these cases are also registered in Pune. We will further investigate these frauds and take those cases to a logical end.”
The cyber fraudsters siphoned off large amounts of money that the victims had transferred into various bank accounts as per their instructions, police said. Police are attempting to trace the money trail, sources said.
Beware contact from unidentified persons online: police
Pune City Police has said that cyber criminals are running rackets to cheat people through social media platforms. Police have appealed to residents not to respond to unidentified persons on social media who try to form friendships. Residents should be aware of such cyber fraudsters and avoid making any financial transactions following their false claims of gifts, online lottery awards, jobs and business offers, police said.
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