Mumbai: Fraudsters have used people’s joblessness during Covid pandemic and duped hundreds of needy people in the last few months, Mumbai Police has found.
According to police, several fake companies identified people from job portals and offered them foreign jobs. After receiving a series of complaints about these companies, which duped people in the name of visa application fee, Mumbai police got into stern action mode and got into the process of nabbing the suspects.
On October 10, 2020, Vishal Mandavkar, a resident of Mumbai got a job offer in Canada from global chain of hotels Hilton. The offer was furnished to him over email. The email stated that his resume passed the selection criteria and he got a job in Canada.
This was after Vishal had applied for the job on LinkedIn. Seeing such a lucrative offer with the airfares reimbursed, Vishal got excited and eventually advanced with the formalities.
The plot started getting sinisterly convoluted when the company further started explaining the visa conditions. Although they claimed to reimburse the travel costs, they said that the visa costs would be borne by Vishal himself. What was appearing like a routine intricacy would be later unfolding into a multi-shell international money extortion front.
During several calls between the company and Vishal, Rs. 17,22,800 was extracted from him in the name of Visa application. The money was extracted in different stages, with a different excuse every time.
Much time passed as Vishal was awaiting his final visa confirmation until he realized that there won’t be any response coming from the other side. He realised that he was defrauded.
He approached the police and got an FIR registered at BKC Cyber Police station on 15th January, 2021.
The police got to work and found the details of the Bank Account where the money was transferred. When they traced the transactions of the bank account, they reached a CCTV camera of an ATM in Pune.
The accused scammer, Michael, a Nigerian national on a business visa was withdrawing money from the ATM. It took a few days for the police to identify the accused and they got hold of him on 16th January, 2021.
At the time of his arrest, 11 mobile phones and 1 Laptop were confiscated. When the police opened the Laptop using forensics, they found the modus operandi and the significantly large amount of information about the intensity of this scam.
On his Desktop, there were multiple job offer letters which had been used to lure money from other people. Alongside these, there was a document with a list of 27,000 potential victims.
Out of these 27,000, around 2,000 people had already been communicated with who belonged to over 65 countries. Additionally, also had the passport details of 2,500 people. On discovering further, the police found that there were a couple of email IDs related to the case present on the laptop. While assessing the emails, the police came to know that this operation was being run by a large team of people.
Around 70 bank accounts were identified from these emails and they were frozen on the directions of the police. Further investigation of the accounts’ transactions is being done by the police.
When police accessed the phones of Michael, they found that they had VoIP apps for calling. The police are considering contacting the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology for initiating a debate on the legal status of these applications in India’s upcoming future.
These applications were used to call the potential victims from international numbers.
These international calls made the nexus’ fronts of legitimate international organizations look real. In the messages of the phone, there were found additional transactional details between the Michael and the victims.
Apart from that, login credentials of dark web websites were found in the laptop. Those websites were known for selling data of individuals and softwares to exploit and/or hack systems, including intruding into people’s privacies.
Michael was extorting on an average, Rs. 45,000 from the victims. While investigating through the records present in the devices, Rs. 50,00,000 extorted amounts have been identified by the police. This number is deemed to go up in tens of folds. Even though the emails were being sent in the disguise of foreign companies, the bank accounts they provided were Indian Bank accounts.
Moreover, the bank accounts were registered from different names (personal and Indian shell companies) rather than the name of the companies (fake) which were sending emails. People fell victims to these because of their cyber ignorance and inability to point out these suspicious patterns.
These victims emerge from a database of thousands of targets which Michael and his accomplices had prepared from the responses they got on these fake companies’ LinkedIn, Shine.com and Monster.com profiles.
When we reached out to Dr. Rashmi Karandikar, cyber police DCP, Mumbai Police for a comment, she said, “We are in constant communication with LinkedIn, Shine and Monster to get more details and leads about this nexus. Meanwhile, we are planning to get the non-movable assets of this person, confiscated to appropriately reimburse the victims.”
Joint Collaborative Action Force (JCAF 655), a unit of CyberSmithSECURE, volunteering in helping Law Enforcement Agencies get technical assistance in cyber related cases said, “Identifying this person was not hard for the police. The problem is that criminals are using advanced technology to coverup their crimes. Social engineering techniques, like in this case, are very hard to prevent as the victims themselves allow these criminals cause harm to them. It’s very essential that people get more aware about such events and not fall prey to the hands of these cyber fraudsters. Cyber awareness is the need of the hour.”