A family photo taken after buying a brand new Honda motorcycle at a showroom in Hyderabad proved to be a turning point in a Bengaluru police investigation into a multi-layer investment scam where a 40-year-old woman in the city was defrauded of Rs 18.75 lakh after being lured into a task-based fraud on WhatsApp and Telegram.
The investigation into the case where the woman was promised bigger returns on completion of online tasks against investments, between August and September 2023, has found links to 2,143 fraud cases, involving Rs 158 crore, registered on the National Cybercrime Reporting Portal (NCRP).
Among the nine people arrested so far in the case are three stock market traders and a bar dancer from Mumbai, an HR recruiter from Bengaluru, and a real estate dealer from Hyderabad. The trail also leads to three Indian nationals who flit between Dubai and Mumbai; although two identities are established, they are yet to be arrested.
Initial investigations in the case registered on September 16, 2023, revealed that the money the woman had transferred believing she would get big returns when she completed the online rating tasks sent to her on groups titled ‘VIP VN6’ and ‘74VN Order’ showed that the money had gone to 12 separate accounts of major banks in India.
The probe also found that the accounts had been opened in the names of different people with one of the accounts where the money had gone being linked to temporary Hyderabad and permanent Bengaluru addresses, a Bengaluru cybercrime police official said.
A businessman, 2 stock traders and a bar girl
In the initial part of the investigation based on the Bengaluru addresses given for opening the suspect bank accounts in Hyderabad, four men were arrested in Bengaluru – HR recruiter Aamir Sohail, courier firm worker Inayath Khan, his father-in-law Nayaz Khan, a fish merchant, and garment unit worker Adil Agha.
The men claimed that they were contacted, taken to Hyderabad and employed at local sites for several days by a man named Syed Abbas Ali Khan. Syed, they claimed, took their identity credentials and used them to open the bank accounts.
While only Agha had met Syed, Sohail had been told by Syed that he had bought a Honda motorcycle on January 1, 2024. None of the arrested men had a phone contact for Abbas in Hyderabad since he reportedly never used his phone to contact the people he was recruiting.
The Bengaluru police took Agha and Sohail to Hyderabad and began scouting for possible leads on the suspect at Honda motorcycle showrooms in the city. “We went to around 20 showrooms. At one showroom, they had clicked photos of the new bike owners. We found a photo clicked on January 1, 2024, of a man and his family with a motorcycle. He was identified by one of the suspects as the person we were looking for. He was tracked down and arrested,” a cybercrime police official said.
Following his arrest, real estate businessman Syed revealed that he was sending the kits for the new bank accounts in Hyderabad (along with new SIM cards and ID details) used in the scam to an associate, Mithul Manish Shah, in Mumbai on instructions he received over virtual private network (VPN) calls from an unknown entity in Dubai.
The bank account kits, SIM cards and other materials were sent by bus from Hyderabad to Mumbai, Syed told the police.
The arrest of Mithul, a stock trader, revealed that he and a friend, Sathish Shah, also a trader, were receiving commissions for the bank accounts, SIM cards and ID data that they were providing to Shashikant Shah, another trader. They were receiving the commissions through the account of a Mumbai bar dancer, Naina, who was their close friend, the police said. “She received nearly Rs 1 crore in recent months,” a police official said. Naina and Shashikant have been arrested.
A crime trail, from India to Dubai
The probe has found that the money transferred to Indian accounts was finally being drawn in Dubai by the main operators of the fraud. “In the past, we had a vague idea of the final destination of the fraud funds and the identities of suspects who were drawing the money in Dubai. This time, we have identified the persons as being Indian. Two identities are established,” a senior police official said.
“The probe has found that the 30 bank accounts linked to the Bangalore case are connected to 2,143 cases reported on the National Cybercrime Reporting Portal involving a total fraud of Rs 158 crore. An amount of Rs 62 lakh in these accounts have been frozen,” Bengaluru Police Commissioner B Dayananda said Tuesday.
“The majority of the 2143 cases reported on the NCRP are from Maharashtra (293), Tamil Nadu (292), Karnataka (265), Telangana (229) and Andhra Pradesh (161),” Cybercrime Police Inspector Hazaresh Killedar said. There are 135 linked cases in Bengaluru alone.
In September 2023, in a similar investigation, the Bengaluru cybercrime police had found a similar racket involving an MBA graduate and a software engineer operating out of a rented house in the city under the guise of a nameless private enterprise.
The police probe found that a one-bedroom house rented by the accused was a back office for a massive fraud network operating across India where thousands of people were cheated after being lured by strangers on social media to invest small amounts for high returns.
In a similar case in Hyderabad in July 2023, the cybercrime police revealed that 15,000 victims were cheated of Rs 712 crore through 113 bank accounts created for fake companies as part of the fraud by a group of local operatives found to be linked to Dubai-based operators with China links.
The probe also found a terror funding link where some of the fraudulently acquired funds were allegedly diverted to crypto wallets linked to the Hezbollah group.