On September 15, a senior IPS officer in Karnataka, P Harishekharan, filed a complaint with a CID cyber crime police station in Bengaluru, saying somebody had created a fake Facebook profile with his name and photographs and was seeking funds from his friends.
A day later, CID Deputy Superintendent of Police M H Nagthe lodged a similar complaint.
On October 5, another DSP in the CID, Prakash Rathod, lodged a complaint saying a friend of his friend had donated money after being approached by a fake Facebook account in the DSP’s name.
Investigations in over a dozen similar complaints made by police officers in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana have led the Karnataka CID cyber unit to an organised cybercrime network operating mostly from Bharatpur and other parts of Rajasthan.
The network of operators – including a mobile phone SIM card retailer and a distributor – had created hundreds of fake Aadhaar identities and issued SIM cards against the fake IDs which were then used to create social media accounts to impersonate the police officers.
The CID have arrested four members of the gang – Balwinder Singh, a SIM card distributor who activated fake accounts; Ansar Khan, a SIM card retailer who sold SIMs against fake Aadhaar IDs; Saini, an accomplice who created the fake Aadhaar ID; and Saddam, a receiver of the funds obtained through the fraud – from Rajasthan and are on the lookout for a fifth suspect, Shakeel Ahmed, who allegedly created fake accounts on Facebook and other social media.
“There is a rise in the number of instances where social media profiles of public figures and officials, including police officers, are being duplicated to cheat the public. The imposter sends friend requests to all the contacts and once accepted, they would induce the persons to transfer money to various e-wallets/payment bank accounts citing some urgent need,” said M D Sharath, Superintendent of Police of the CID cyber crime unit in Karnataka which carried out the recent arrests.
An FIR registered on a complaint filed by DSP Prakash Rathod said, “The miscreants downloaded a photograph (of the officer) in police uniform, along with one in plain clothes and created fake profiles and started impersonating. They started contacting Facebook friends and started requesting monetary help by quoting emotional reasons. As a result, one of his Facebook friends transferred Rs 2,000 to the designated account.”
Some IPS officers like Harishekharan, who is the Inspector General of Police for police training in Karnataka, and Deputy Commissioner of Police Bengaluru (East) S D Sharanappa were able to alert friends or get the fake accounts shut down quickly — before the scamsters could have their way.
“My profile is private but they managed to source some of my pictures to create an account. Luckily, the account gathered only 43 followers before I became aware of it. Many of those who got the messages were people in my village and they did not have the new payment systems. We were able to block the account in quick time,” says Sharanappa.
In December 2019, Karnataka IPS officer D Roopa, who is now home secretary, had raised the issue of a fake Instagram account in her name. “This is not my account. I’m not on Instagram. This is brought to my notice only now. Will complain to Cyber crime police station @CIDKarnataka. Meanwhile request those on @instagram to report this issue,” she had tweeted.
Among other officers known to have been recently targeted by the scamsters is Tamil Nadu Additional Director-General of Police (Crime against Women and Children) M Ravi and the Madurai Police Commissioner Davidson Devasirvatham.
The key finding from their investigation, according to cyber crime SP M D Sharath, is the large-scale creation of fake Aadhaar IDs and the issuance of SIM cards without verification.
“The accused persons created fake Aadhaar cards by mixing up various photographs, addresses and Aadhaar numbers. One of the accused persons, a SIM card retailer, used such fake Aadhaar details to apply for activation of thousands of fake SIM cards,” police said. The arrested SIM retailer had allegedly created over a hundred 100 fake Aadhaar IDs using his wife’s photo to get SIM cards issued.
Apart from social media impersonation of police officers and officials, these SIM cards were being used by the gang to carry out scams on re-selling platforms such as Olx and Quikr. “Scamming on reselling platforms is the gang’s main activity; social media impersonation is a small activity,” a police official said.
“Public are advised to not fall prey to such frauds and exercise caution while accepting any request from government officers, especially those who are already in your friends list. Privacy controls provided by social media sites may be used to avoid any misuse of information,” the cyber crime police said.
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