Residents of Bengaluru are falling prey to a new kind of cybercrime, and this time even the police appear involved!
However, the role of the cops is not a real one: One or more people are impersonating personnel from the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police to get people to part with their money.
How? They are first threatening their “mark” — a term used to denote the victim or victims — over their alleged involvement in a money-laundering case.
Then, the fraudsters are turning “sympathetic” and offering to clear the victim’s name in the case. If money exchanges hands, of course.
And that’s how some Bengalureans have apparently been defrauded of lakhs of rupees!
Case in point
Clara (not her real name), a resident of HSR Layout in southeast Bengaluru, took a break from her IT job and was preparing for her UPSC exams.
Recently, she received a call from a nine-digit phone number while she was at home: It looked like an internet VoIP call.
The caller identified himself as a staff member of FedEx and informed her that a package had come in her name from Taiwan to the courier company’s Mumbai office.
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“The caller told me that the package contained multiple passports and credit cards, which was illegal, and so they (the FedEx staff) had handed over the package to the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police,” Clara told South First.
Since Clara had never visited Mumbai, and she was not expecting any package either, she decided to ignore the call.
However, a few minutes later, Clara received a WhatsApp call on her phone.
“The caller introduced himself as an inspector from the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police, and told me that there was a package that had come for her from Taiwan that had fake passports and credit cards. The inspector also told me that there was an online complaint filed against me, based on which a case of money laundering had been registered,” she told South First.
“He then sent me an image of his ID card and then the copy of the online complaint,” she recalled.
As the ID card and the online complaint copy looked genuine, Clara became nervous and panicked, and started pleading with the “police officer”, saying she was innocent and had no role to play in the matter.
“The caller spoke in Hindi, in the stern commanding voice of a police officer. I could even hear the ambient noise of a police station behind him,” recalled Clara.
“There were sounds of walkie-talkies and he would often speak on the walkie-talkie amid his conversation with me. He also seemed to be conducting a parallel inquiry at the police station while talking to me over the phone,” she told South First.
This led Clara to believe that her credentials might have been used for an illegal transaction.
She was more worried as she believed by now that she was now an accused in a money-laundering case even as she was preparing for her UPSC exams.
Moreover, the inspector sent her a newspaper clipping of a money-launderer who was arrested, and told Clara that her name was involved in a similar case that no less than the CBI — the country’s top probe agency — was looking into.
The officer also sent Clara what was purportedly a CBI Consent to Terms of Confidentiality form.
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Fraudster turns the screws
At this point, a desperate Clara told the “police officer” that she was ready to go to any lengths — time, place, and other factors no bar — to prove that she was innocent. However, she was also apprehensive about rubbing the “cop” the wrong way.
The “crime branch inspector” then changed his tone, telling her in a soothing voice that he knew she has been falsely implicated in the case, and that he could help her get out of it.
When Clara asked what she had to do, he said they needed to verify her bank details to make sure that no other huge transaction had happened through her account.
As would have been the case with anyone who had just found out that there was a way they would not be branded a criminal despite no fault of their own, Clara found it reasonable and sent her bank statement, from which the cybercriminal learnt how much money she had.
The “inspector” then asked her to transfer ₹1 lakh for CBI verification charges in Mumbai and ₹50,000 for verification charges to the CBI’s Chennai office.
“Thinking that my name was getting cleared, I transferred the money into the three-four bank accounts he provided. Soon after that, the police officer ended the call,” she said.
However, as Clara began giving the incident more thought, she realised she had been conned, and immediately called up the police control room.
“The cops asked me for my bank account number and the account numbers to which I had transferred the money. They informed me that they had frozen three accounts, but could not freeze one due to some technical glitch from the private bank’s side,” she told South First.
She then headed to her bank branch in HSR Layout and was told by the bank staff that there were three other women who had been conned in a similar fashion.
Police urge caution
A senior officer from the Bengaluru City Police told South First: “If someone calls from any unknown number and demands money in the name of the police, one can walk into the nearest police station and share the details of the caller to ascertain the identity of the caller.”
He added: “The person could also list out the numbers and hand them over to the police, explaining the situation.”
He also said: “If anyone is not expecting any couriers, or hasn’t done anything wrong, why should they be scared and send money to clear their name? Before sending money, they could have informed the police so that we could have directed them on what to do next.”
Another police officer said: “Even after the money is gone from one’s bank account, the golden hour starts there. One should immediately dial 112 and get routed to the cybercrime division, which will take the bank account numbers and initiate the process of freezing the bank accounts with the respective banks and the RBI.”
This officer added: “If the golden hour is wasted, cybercriminals will transfer money from one account to another and park the cheated cash elsewhere.”