The two call centres, which were detected during the nationwide crackdown led by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the cyber-enabled financial crime syndicates on Tuesday, had allegedly been operating since 2014-15.
Set up in Pune and Ahmedabad, the centres had about 150 people who would make clandestine calls to the prospective targets in the United States and lure them into making payments on various pretexts. The masked calls would be made via the Voice over Internet Protocol technology to evade detection. The U.S.’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had shared the initial information about the scam with the CBI a few months ago.
The agency’s Cyber Crime Investigation Division (CCID) developed the inputs received from the Interpol, the FBI and the enforcement agencies in Canada and Australia. During the massive exercise, the investigators kept tabs on the suspects’ digital footprints. The inter-agency coordination work was done by the CBI’s recently set up International Operations division. It is learnt that the head of Interpol’s cyber crime unit also visited India to facilitate smooth sharing of actionable intelligence.
The CCID also interacted with the cyber crime units of the police in various States to zero in on those involved. After analysing all the inputs, the “Operation Chakra” was launched. The police forces in Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Assam, Karnataka, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh and Haryana also participated in the searches that took place at 115 locations. The CBI teams searched 87 places across 16 States in connection with 11 cases. In all, 16 accused persons were arrested, according to the agency.
Cash, gold seized
During the “Operation Chakra”, ₹1.80 crore in cash and 1.50 kg of gold were seized. Bank accounts with a total balance of about ₹1.89 crore was frozen in Karnataka. Besides, the search teams seized a large number of mobile phones, laptops and other digital devices containing huge electronic evidence.
Preliminary investigations have revealed that those running the two call centres had attempted to dismantle the entire digital infrastructure to avoid getting caught. Cyber forensic tools were employed to retrieve the deleted evidence in various forms, including emails.
“Over the past one year, the CBI has paid more attention to the probe into transnational offences. In the past few days, this is the third such drive in partnership with the Interpol and our counterparts in other member countries. The first, as part of multi-phase ‘Operation Garuda’, led to the arrest of 175 alleged drug smugglers in 127 cases in coordination with the Interpol, Narcotics Control Bureau and the police in different States. A huge quantity of narcotics was seized,” said an official.
During the second operation codenamed “Megh Chakra”, initiated against the circulation and sharing of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) on the inputs from the Interpol’s Singapore Crime Against Children unit and the New Zealand police, 59 locations across 20 States and one Union Territory were searched on September 24.
In a similar drive, the agency had raided the premises of suspects in different parts of the country in November 2021. More than 80 Indian nationals allegedly involved in storing, selling and sharing links, videos, pictures, texts, posts and hosting CSAM on social media groups were identified and over two dozen cases registered. The CBI also gathered leads about close to 5,000 offenders from about 100 other countries.