The Delhi Police’s cyber cell on Wednesday, 9 June, busted a nationwide fraud syndicate run by a group of Chinese nationals in collusion with Indian fraudsters. They duped more than five lakh Indians of over Rs 150 crores in two months.
The fraudsters claimed to offer profitable returns on an online multilevel marketing campaign through their “malicious mobile applications”. The apps, such as Power Bank, EZPlan, and others, were listed on Google Play, the Delhi Police said.
Following multiple raids in Delhi-NCR and West Bengal since 2 June, 11 people, including a Tibetan woman and two chartered accountants (CAs) based in Delhi and Gurugram, were arrested.
Meanwhile, the police confirmed the footprints of the syndicate in West Bengal, Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, Odisha, Assam, and Surat.
Around Rs 12 crore has been recovered from the fraudsters. Deputy commissioner of police (cyber crime cell, CyPAD) Anyesh Roy said that Rs 97 lakh had been recovered from one of the arrested CAs, Avik Kedia, who had formed over 110 “shell companies” for his Chinese partners in order to route the money through multiple bank accounts, Hindustan Times reported.
Money from bank accounts and online portals operated by the syndicate’s members based in India and China amounted to Rs 11 crore and has been frozen.
How Did the Syndicate Operate?
- People were randomly contacted via various communication apps by the Chinese handlers.
- Interested persons were hired as ‘partners’ to procure bogus bank accounts, creating shell companies, circulating, promoting their fraudulent apps and transferring money.
- The link to an online app was circulated. The apps induced and cheated people by promising them profitable returns.
- Under the ‘schemes’, the fraudsters designed and circulated mobile apps that stole the data of their victims.
- Links to apps, such as Power Bank, Sun Factory, Lightning Power Bank, etc, were circulated through YouTube, Telegram, WhatsApp and bulk SMSes. Some of these apps were also listed on the Google Play.
- Upon investigation, it was discovered that to entice investors, the fraudsters gave a small payout amounting to 5-10 per cent of the invested money.
- The police said, once someone invested a large amount, their account would be blocked by the app.
How Was the Scam Discovered?
Several social media posts were made by people across the country regarding “Power Bank and EZPlan” – two apps that offered to double the invested amount within a month.
Trending at #4, the Power Bank app was available on Google Play and the EZPlan app was available on the website www.ezplan.in. The malware forensic lab of CyPAD-NCFL (National Cyber Forensic lab) was asked to examine both the apps.
“After the apps were analysed,” Roy said, “CyPAD officials found that to deceive people, the Power Bank app projected itself as a product of a Bengaluru-based technology startup.”
However, the server, on which the app had been hosted, was found to be based in China. The app was associated with several dangerous permissions, such as access to camera, read and write to external storage and read contact details of the cellphone,” Hindustan Times reported.
How Were the Scamsters Caught?
A CyPAd officer became a decoy customer, invested a token amount using the app and followed the money trail, which led the cyber crime cell to linked payment gateways, UPI IDs, transaction IDs, bank accounts that were being used for routing the money.
Subsequently, a network of around 25 shell companies for routing the ill-gained money was traced across the country.
Roy added that several mobile phone numbers, connected to the bank accounts and involved in the scam, were found to have Chinese origins, Hindustan Times reported.
Roy was quoted as saying, “Further analysis of mobile numbers active in India led to the arrest of Sheikh Robin in West Bengal’s Uluberia on 2 June. The same day, nine other suspects were arrested, while a Tibetan woman, Pema Wangmo, was arrested later from Delhi’s IGI Airport.”
Wangmo used to act on the directive of the Chinese and would create shell companies with Indian directors. Umakant Akash Joys, Ved Chandra, Hari Om and Abhishek Mansaramani, all residents of Delhi, were arrested. They were Directors in the shell companies used for the scam, the police said.
Others involved in the scam were chartered accountants Avik Kedia and Ronak Bansal, Three others – Arvind, Shashi Bansal and Mithlesh Sharma – were also arrested, ANI reported.
Roy said that Robin had 29 bank accounts and 30 active cellphones at the time of his arrest. Robin’s disclosure revealed a well-planned conspiracy of cheating and fraud being organized by Chinese nationals via shell companies, bank accounts, and dummy mobile numbers.
(With inputs from Hindustan Times and ANI)