After losing jobs during the lockdown, a few truck drivers, mechanics and agricultural labourers from Rajasthan donned the role of cyber criminals.
The Chennai city police recently tracked them down for creating fake accounts of senior IPS officers and cheating people. However, this is not the first time that they have indulged in cyber crimes.
They have already cheated several persons after receiving money online for supplying foreign liquor or for selling vehicles on OLX, the police said.
In August, they created fake Facebook accounts of Chennai City Police Commissioner Mahesh Kumar Aggarwal and more than two dozen IPS officers in the city, including DGP Ashutosh Shukla. They did not spare police officers of Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh either.
They copied the profile pictures of the IPS officers from their Facebook accounts, and used them to create fake profiles. They then befriended people from the officers’ friend lists, asking for money on grounds of medical emergencies, including COVID-19. Some persons, without verifying the account’s authenticity, credited the money into the mobile wallets of the criminals.
After analysing call records, a special team of cyber police traced the suspects to Kethuwara and Levra villages of Kaman Tahsil, in Bharatpur district, Rajasthan. The team nabbed the main suspect, Shakeel Khan, who was wanted by other States as well.
Shakeel Khan has attended school only up to Class 2, the police said.
He was earning ₹5,000 as a truck driver in Kaithwara village. After he lost his job during the lockdown, he turned into a full-time criminal on cyberspace, and trained youngsters from his area. His associates — two adults and two juveniles — were also nabbed.
“Our investigation revealed that the criminals were once truck drivers or were involved in other allied professions. Most of them had not even completed elementary classes. After losing their jobs during the pandemic, they decided to indulge in cyber crime,” said Additional Deputy Commissioner K. Saravanakumar.
“They trained themselves on how to become cyber criminals. Many juveniles were also involved in the offence. They did not have swanky offices but sat under trees in the village,” he said.
The criminals operated in more than a dozen villages of Alwar and Bharatpur districts in Rajasthan, bordering Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. It was very tough for the police to nab them. “If the police visited one village, the suspects escaped easily to others in the neighbouring States, on their two-wheelers. Sometimes, others would alert the criminals,” said an officer who went searching.
“They are well-versed with the usage of social media tools. Once the victim paid them money through the wallet, the suspects transferred it quickly to three more wallets, and, later, to fictitious accounts, to avoid law-enforcement authorities. All remittances and transfers were done in a roundtable manner, sitting under a tree,” said Assistant Commissioner of Police R. Durai.
Interestingly, there was no ATM in the surrounding villages, and they seldom withdrew money from banks. They withdrew money from e-mitra service centres, using “privileged debit” cards, the police said.
Privileged cardholders can withdraw any amount of money, without any limit. The police said e-mitra services were established to render single-window services to people in Rajasthan. The criminals would withdraw cash from these centres, in connivance with the operators, paying them a commission. Everything was done in violation of the norms, the police said.
“They have free access to SIM cards, without any need to produce valid documents. They then use the cards in mobile phones to create fake profiles and transfer money from one wallet to another, without any requirement of KYC details. They keep changing the SIM cards. They also open fictious bank accounts and obtain privileged cards or swiping machines to withdraw money quickly,” said Inspector Vinodh.