On the May 6 afternoon, Neha, an IT professional from Hyderabad, received a message on her WhatsApp from a person claiming to be a marketing executive offering an online job offer by listing out tasks for her to do. The ‘job’ would cost her ₹2.34 lakh of her hard-earned money within the next two weeks.
Ms. Neha is among the hundreds of Indians who have fallen prey to this scam. The officials from the Hyderabad Cyber Crimes revealed that they have been getting six to seven complaints a day of a similar nature since February. It is estimated that 15,000 people from across the country were victims of the fraud, with each of them losing ₹5-6 lakh. “However, we have received complaints of people losing ₹80 lakh to even ₹1 crore,” officials said.
Sharing her plight, Ms. Neha said that once the ‘job’ was accepted, the fraudsters would add her phone number to a Telegram group, where a ‘teacher’ would give out tasks to finish and also project a dummy website with a screen showing high amounts of money with a ‘withdraw’ option. “I had taken the help from my friends to pay these fraudsters unaware of the scam. I thought I should complain about this to warn others but there was a queue of victims at the police station who had lost lakhs of rupees to a similar scam,” she said.
Hyderabad Cyber Crimes DCP Sneha Mehra said that“It is a huge, well-organised racket and though the basic modus operandi remains the same, the tasks differ. They range from liking random YouTube videos to rating businesses on Google. Initially, with each task, the victim is asked to deposit small amounts and is also given a cash reward back to gain the trust. However, in the long haul, the victim ends up losing lakhs of rupees,” explained the DCP.
Making their first breakthrough in this scam, the Hyderabad police on July 22 announced the arrest of nine persons nabbed from Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad, involved in a ₹712-crore investment fraud, reportedly masterminded by Chinese citizens based in Dubai. Hyderabad Police Commissioner C.V. Anand said that a portion of the money collected by the gang was linked to the Lebanese-based terror group, Hezbollah.
The arrest came after a complaint in April from a Hyderabad resident stating that he had lost ₹28 lakh after taking up an online part-time job that he had found on the Telegram app. He got the ‘rate and review’ task.
A probe by the city police revealed that the ₹28 lakh had been transferred to six accounts and then to various other Indian bank accounts and that finally in Dubai, the money was used to purchase cryptocurrency. As many as 65 bank accounts were opened in the names of 33 fictitious companies in Lucknow on the directions of one Prakash Prajapathi of Ahmedabad, who is associated with Chinese citizens Lee Lou Guangzhou, Nan Ye and Kevin Jun. “Prakash Prajapati had supplied over 65 accounts in which transactions of ₹128 crore took place. Other accounts through which the fraud money has been converted to USDT show a transaction volume of ₹584 crore. Over₹ 712 crore has been syphoned off by these fraudsters,” said the official.
An official from the Cyberabad cyber crimes said that while they were trying to analyse the category of targeted victims in this racket, they have not discovered any particular pattern. “Usually in cyber crimes, the target of the victim base remains specific. However, in this racket, we have received complaints from someone as young as 21-year-old to retired government employees in their 70s,” said the official.
Ms. Mehra warned the public to be careful while replying to such messages and not to fall prey to such ‘get rich quick’ schemes.