Like, share, invest to lose
The city police’s Cyber Crime cell has received over 100 complaints, where the ostensibly well-educated individuals have lost crores of money falling for these get-rich-quick schemes. DT Next reports
CHENNAI: In mid-August, Inspector Elayaraja and Sub-Inspector Rajeev of the city’s Cyber Crime wing travelled to Uttar Pradesh to arrest a man. They identified him as the account holder in a bank to which crores were routed – all of it cheated from victims of a fast-growing online con.
On reaching Rae Bareli and coordinating with their counterparts there, the Chennai-team was surprised to learn that the man their suspects was a 20-year-old Ridham Chawla, a college student.
Chawla told investigators that he was a crypto trader and an aspiring businessman. However, since the digital trail of the money from victims in Chennai led to his bank account, he’s now cooling his heels in Puzhal prison.
“He had traded around Rs 1.6 crore in crypto exchanges. Some of the money he got by cheating people looking for parttime and work-from-home jobs,” a senior police officer with City Police.
Desperate to earn
SI Rajeev recalls a young mother’s complaint, which took them to the northern State. “She was an IT employee, and was on a maternity break. When she was looking for work-from-home options, she got a WhatsApp message for a part-time job and responded.”
The tasks were simple like YouTube promotion, liking a product/brand or adding five stars to a hotel in another State to their Google review. Then you take a screenshot and send it back to the number that assigned you the task.
“For this, you are paid Rs 50-100. Then you’re told that for higher tasks, you’ll get more money,” said Inspector Elayaraja. Victims are usually moved to a Telegram group where they’re assigned further tasks, for which one has to pay to earn more money.
“In the initial stages of the con, when you pay Rs 1,000, you get back Rs 1,600 and so on. Eventually, it goes into lakhs and before you realise it, you end up losing it all,” he added. The young mother lost over Rs 66 lakh, of which Rs 10 lakh were her own savings.
She started borrowing money from friends and pledged jewellery. “She was so deep into the con that she did not realise it. And she did not consult anyone, not her husband or family members,” said Rajeev.
When police asked her why she did not approach them earlier, she told them that she was psychologically affected after she got drawn into the scam and was not thinking straight. “Almost 85% of the complaints we get are from well-educated persons,” pointed out Rajeev.
Assistant Commissioner K Kiruthikaa, Central Crime Branch (CCB), said that the scamsters manage to get data of those looking for jobs from recruitment sites. “Post-pandemic, preference for workfrom-home options is high, which these guys take advantage of,” the ACP said.
Investigations have revealed that not everyone has lost money. There were early movers who were allowed to earn to create an impression among their friends and family to spread the word.
Those who took the bait become easy prey for scamsters, since the victims were already operating out of faith in a person they know has had monetary gain via affiliate marketing. “Many lose their hard-earned money.
Worse, there are victims who lose someone else’s hard-earned money by borrowing and investing in these affiliate scams,” said an investigator. In these scams, victims are lured by WhatsApp and Telegram messages where they’re offered jobs such as liking, subscribing to YouTube videos, writing Google reviews for tourist locations, hotel and travel reviews.
The bigger prey is lured into crypto trading/investment on fake websites created by fraudsters. “Initially, victims receive money rang ing from Rs 150-1,000 for completing tasks. This motivates them to get involved more.
They’re slowly moved to a bigger Telegram group with over 50 participants. There, they’re asked to pay a subscription for getting tasks which will pay them more,” explained Inspector Elayaraja.
In the group, fraudsters post screenshots of people earning more money and then give time-bound tasks and make victims fail in such tasks. Using this, fraudsters demand for penalty payment by freezing the amount earned. Believing the con, victims tend to invest more by borrowing loans from banks, friends, and pledging jewellery.
So far, the police have received complaints from software engineers, a flight steward and even veteran stock traders, one of whom had lost Rs 6 crore.
“Traders are made to join a VIP group in which an analyst posts motivational messages every morning to boost those who are in the group to invest more promising exponential returns,” said a cop. But, those who lose the money are not the only victims.
Standing Man, Sitting Man
The Cyber Crime teams of the city police are housed in a large hall on the first floor of the Commissioner’s office in Vepery. The teams are segregated by cubicles.
It actually resembles a call centre than a conventional police station, only here, the attenders to the problems, also known as investigators, don’t have to fake their accents and can even express dissatisfaction at the imprudence of those who come to them with their problems.
Last Tuesday evening, as DT Next dropped into the Cyber Crime wing, there were two people in front of Cyber Crime Inspector Sudhakar’s desk. One was sitting and the other was standing. The Inspector’s coarse words were directed at the man standing. Inspector:
Are you going to tell me the truth or do you want to go to jail?” Standing Man: Sir, I’m telling you the truth. I have no idea about this. I was told to create a bank account. I am not part of whatever you’re suggesting.
Why should I believe you? You might be lying. Probably you are the mastermind. No sir No? Then tell me who put you into this. While the young man stares at the wall above his head, Sudhakar gestures to his sub-inspector and asks him to investigate the Standing Man thoroughly.
“If he’s not opening up, prepare him to be sent for remand,” he reminds his subordinate. Sudhakar then turns his attention to Sitting Man and says: “So, your complaint here says that you have lost Rs 1.15 crore in this online part-time job scam.”
The Sitting Man gives an awkward smile. Three weeks ago, the police had arrested five suspects — low and mid-level operators — who are said to have lured many into one of these online part-time job scams and cheated several lakhs.
Only after losing Rs 18.2 lakh, the complainant realised that he was being taken for a ride. When he approached the police, they obtained the KYC (Know your customer) details of bank accounts to which the victim had sent money to and traced the phone numbers linked to the accounts.
The main suspect, Darla Praveen Kumar (32) of ICF Colony, was arrested after which four of his associates were arrested. They had opened a current account for a commission. “In most cases, they’re people from the low-income group who run small businesses.
They’re approached by agents who pay them money to operate these accounts in their name,” said a senior cop with the city police. In some cases, the bank accounts belong to innocents who do not know of the grand schemes behind it.
“Some are made to create bank accounts by agents in the pretext of getting money for various State and Central government schemes,” pointed out the sub-inspector.
When Inspector Sudhakar turned his attention to the Standing Man, he murmured about a friend asking him to open a current account in a bank so that he could avail loans to expand his business. He ran a meat stall in the city. “Loanlam kedaikkadhu.
Ipdi police station ku lo lo nu dan alayanum. (You won’t get any loan. Instead, you’ll end up spending time at the police station like this,” he told the Standing Man.
WATCH OUT FOR…
Affiliate marketing scams or the ‘online part-time job scam’, as the city police calls it, which has some unintended victims too
EB BILL SCAM
Scamsters send phishing links to mobile numbers with a message claiming that your electricity connection will be cut off if the pending bills/dues are not paid.
In some cases, scamsters make phone calls claiming to be from the EB department and then send a link to the caller.
A message will be sent to your phone number stating that a parcel you sent through their firm is returned. Then, a recorded call will claim the same after which an ‘executive’ will state that a parcel sent from India to a foreign country is returned after authorities found contraband in it.
The ‘executive’ will then state that they’re required to inform about this to the local police and will connect the call to another person, who will speak as if he’s a police officer and try to extort money
MATRIMONIAL / LOVER SCAM
Swindlers play an elaborate con on the victims after acquainting with them through social media and matrimony websites and usurp their money.
The con can last a few days to months until the victims realise that they’re being swindled and question their ‘lover’ only to find they were blindsided.
Boss Scam is where you receive an unexpected/unsolicited email or text message from your boss or a leader in an organisation asking that you purchase Amazon pay gift cards and send the cards or the claim codes to that person.