Nigerian 419 scam spreads its tentacles in city

On January 29, four Nigerians were arrested by the cybercrime police in the city for allegedly duping a person to the tune of ₹ 6.62 lakh on the pretext of running an online charity.

The victim, named Sanjay Singh, reportedly got a text message from a person named Aisha, who claimed to be living in the United Kingdom. The sender said in the message that they wanted to transfer an amount of $5.5 million (₹39 crore) to Mr. Singh in order to be distributed as charity among the poor. The sender said that in order for the money to be transferred, Mr. Singh would have to pay them an initial ‘processing fee’ of ₹6.62 lakh.

Mr. Singh fell for the scam, and ended up transferring ₹6.62 lakh to the accused’s bank account in 12 instalments.

Advance fee fraud

Such scams are not new, as they began surfacing in the early 2000s. However, even as the modus operandi of such scams is common knowledge, gullible people still fall prey to fraudsters and end up parting with large sums of money believing that they will get a fortune in return, say police officials.

Apart from Sanjay, there are several individuals in the city who have been defrauded in such scams. Such cases are classified under the Nigerian 419 scam, also known as the ‘advance fee fraud’, and despite awareness, such cases are rising in the city.

According to statistics from the cybercrime police, the city has reported 42 cases in 2019, up from 14 in 2018.

In 2019, the city reported about 365 cybercrime cases in which nearly ₹5.51 crore was lost. Police said that after online marketing frauds, website/e-mail hackings, Nigerian frauds lead the list of scams in the city. Of the total money lost in 2019, almost 25% was due to Nigerian frauds.

Explaining the modus operandi of the scamsters, cybercrime police station SI N. Ravi Kumar said that the fraudsters send emails or messages to people congratulating them on winning a lottery, or tell them that they are the recipients of a charity donation. Some claim to offer employment while others evince interest in a matrimonial alliance.

“The fraudsters send out bulk text messages, emails and social media messages. They lure the gullible victims with astronomical sums of money. Once the victim takes the bait and responds to the message or the email, the fraudsters begin a long process of convincing the victim about their genuineness. Once the victim is convinced, the fraudsters try to extract money on the pretext of paying customs fees, processing fees and taxes. The victim thinks that he or she is paying only a fraction of the promised sum, and ends up paying lakhs to the fraudsters,” the SI said.

‘Making arrests difficult’

In 2019, 90 persons were arrested by the cybercrime police in 63 cases. Among the arrested persons were just two Nigerians.

According to cybercrime inspector V. Gopinath, the Nigerian fraudsters hire middlemen who handle the communications. “Even bank accounts and the mobile phone SIM cards do not belong to the Nigerians. They might be fake or taken from someone on a commission basis. They may be based in India or at times even operating from abroad through a middleman,” Mr. Gopinath said.

“Even though we nab these middlemen, the details of the main fraudsters are not known. The fraudsters meet the middlemen at metro stations, flyovers and other public places. They do not reveal their real names and addresses to them,” he said.

Social media

Mr. Gopinath said that during investigation in several Nigerian fraud cases, they found that the accused use Facebook as a major medium to approach people. He said that people must be alert if any unknown person befriends them on social media claiming to be an NRI. “When we checked the laptops of these fraudsters, they have a number of pictures stolen from social media websites, through which they create fake profiles. If any person asks these fraudsters to send their pictures in order to verify their authenticity, these fraudsters immediately send them these pictures after which the victims are convinced that these persons are genuine,” the SI said.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 2:21:57 AM |

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