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Pune Crime Files: How timely alert from bank helped cops unearth 3-layered cyber fraud ring with Dubai nexus | Pune News | #cybercrime | #infosec

A prompt tip-off from officials at a private sector bank proved pivotal, as the Pimpri Chinchwad police’s cybercrime cell recently unearthed a sophisticated cyber fraud operation.

Thirteen suspects, all in their 20s—operating across three layers and working as cyber foot soldiers by international criminals in Dubai—have been arrested in connection with a network of 50 bank accounts that saw Rs 20 crore move in just two months. These accounts served as conduits for funds pilfered by international kingpins from unsuspecting victims of online frauds.

How did the investigation begin?

A team from the Pimpri Chinchwad police cybercrime cell was investigating an online task fraud case registered at the Dehu Road police station. When the team was investigating the bank accounts linked to the frauds, the investigation team received input from the manager of a private sector bank about suspicious activity in close to three dozen accounts opened over the last two months.

As later turned out, these accounts were in the name of labourers and farmers and had seen unusual activity totalling multiple crores of rupees. As the investigation team started digging into the transactions of these accounts, they realised they were looking at ‘rented’ accounts used for receiving funds siphoned from cybercrime victims.

In the probe conducted over the last week, the investigation team unearthed the network of 50 bank accounts that were flagged in at least 16 cybercrimes registered in Maharashtra.

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The three-tier operation of the racket

An officer from Pimpri Chinchwad police said, “We have made arrests from what we believe are three layers of the racket with their fourth and above layers operating from abroad, in this case, Dubai. The modus operandi of this racket is like any other cybercrime operation, more or less.”

The officer added, “In the case of this specific operation, the first layer is of the people in whose name the accounts were opened. They were receiving a fixed monthly amount or a minuscule percentage of the transactions. These people were told that their accounts were being used for gaming or share trading purposes and received large sums for letting the next layer operators handle their bank accounts. The next layer is of those who helped these people open bank accounts and maintained them.”

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They also received their share of the money from the operation. The officer said the third layer connected the lower two layers to the masterminds in Dubai.

“Our investigation indicates that the money was ultimately being used to buy cryptocurrency, which was then deposited into the digital wallets of the operators based in Dubai. We have apprehended six individuals from the first layer, five from the second layer, and two, including a 23-year-old engineer, from the third layer. We hope to make more arrests from each layer,” the officer stated.

“While our probe began with a case of online task fraud, we have reasons to believe that these accounts have received money from other types of frauds, including online share trading frauds and drugs in parcel scams. A large chunk of victims of these cases are well-educated professionals.”

The investigation team consisted of Senior Inspector Vaibhav Shingare, Assistant Inspector Praveen Swami and Sub Inspectors Sagar Poman, Nitin Gaikwad and Ravindra Panhale, along with constabulary staff.

What are online task frauds?

Since January 2023, Pune citizens have reported many online tasks. In arguably the biggest such case so far with the City Police, a 69-year-old retired Colonel from the Indian Army was cheated of Rs 2.4 crore in May and June last year in an online task fraud.

In these task frauds, the victims initially receive messages offering money for performing tasks such as liking videos and giving online reviews to businesses such as hotels. They are initially paid small amounts to win their trust.

For example, Rs 100 per like to Rs 1,000 per review, etc. Later, they are told that they have been “chosen” for a “higher level” task and asked to pay a fee to receive ‘prepaid tasks’ that will get them higher amounts as returns.

For a ‘prepaid task’ for which the victims pay Rs 1,000, they get Rs 1,500 in return. The fraudsters start increasing the fee while dangling the lure of higher returns. Finally, when the promised returns fail to materialise, the victims realise they are being cheated.

© The Indian Express Pvt Ltd

First uploaded on: 10-06-2024 at 16:49 IST

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