On the line with a fraud?

These are white collar crimes with a difference. Call centres are set up to make fraudulent offers to those seeking jobs or loans

Every now and then, phone service providers send out text messages to beware of fraudulent calls which will ask you to swap your SIM. And banks warn you to never ever divulge the answers to your secret question (for passwords) or your CVV number. With the advent of a mobile phone, such frauds have become rampant. And they operate out of call centres where the ‘company’ is as fraudulent as its mission.

Most recently, a fake call centre was busted in Delhi which came up with an imaginative scheme to lure young job-seekers. They were not phishing for credit card information and the likes, but offered jobs to men open to becoming escorts, gigolos and masseurs.

This came to light upon a complaint made in August 29 by Rinku Pandey at Sabzi Mandi police station stating that he was duped to a tune of Rs 1.18 lakh. According to the complaint, on August 23, a woman called Pandey and offered him a job as a masseur at a five-star hotel. She promised him a salary of Rs 40,000 for four hours of service. The promise of such a large sum for a few hours of work purportedly made him take the unconscionable step of submitting Rs 1.18 lakh through an online portal as registration fees and formalities for getting the job! But when he called the number few days later, it was switched off. The realisation then dawned that he had been swindled.

The over-a-lakh transaction was traced to a home in Rohini’s Sector 20, where a call centre was located, leading to the arrest of three individuals and a minor.

In the past couple of months, there have been several cases of fake call centres being busted. The most recent one on September 11 saw Hyderabad Cyber Crime police conduct raids in Delhi, arresting three persons, while a further 19 ‘employees’ were detained. They had gone a step further to look as authentic as possible, with a website called www.shinecareer.org.in. The matter came to light after a complaint was filed by a man who was duped of over Rs 1 lakh. They preyed on those seeking jobs by sniffing out their resumes from legitimate job portals and then calling them up, offering them a seat in Canada. According to Hyderabad’s DCP (Cyber Crime) KCS Raghuveer, police investigations revealed that they collected more than Rs 34 lakh from such youths.

Then a team from Pune’s Cyber Cell busted a call centre running in Delhi, in August, for promising jobs to those who paid a fee upfront.

Another one in July had a Gurgaon connection. The police busted a fake call centre operating from Delhi. Six men were arrested for cheating people by promising them loans under Pradhan Mantri Rozgar Protsahan Yojana (PMRPY). The perpetrators would target only those living outside Delhi in order to dodge the authorities in the Capital. The matter came to light when a resident of Gurgaon complained to the cyber cell. According to police, a youth who had his training from Industrial Training Institute and his five friends were operating from Samaypur Badli area for the past year and a half.

There is no data on just how many frauds take place via fake call centres. These one-room ‘companies’ seek to dupe persons via phones and the Internet. But the network is so all-encompassing that it doesn’t just affect people living in your neighbourhood or a state a thousand kilometres away.

It has managed to con people overseas with a sophisticated tool which makes borders redundant. In Gurgaon, which comes under the National Capital Region, a network was unearthed in January this year which was bigger than ones run by four or five unemployed college graduates or school dropouts.

The fake company looked anything but, with 500 employees at the call centre calling up 4,000-5,000 customers daily. The employees were paid salaries of Rs 25,000-30,000 per month.

Gurgaon’s DCP (Crime) Sunil Kumar says that they have busted 7-8 cases of fake call centres in Gurgaon since. He emphasises that while they are “physically in the city” their network is spread out, duping people the world over, which means victims can’t get in touch as they don’t know who duped them. It is quite a challenge to rely on “local knowledge,” he says.

Kumar concludes that Gurgaon has limited spaces for such activities. But those using Delhi as a base can operate on a larger scale from the city’s many nooks and corners. Thus, such criminals can only be trounced with simultaneous efforts of police forces of both the cities working in tandem.

In the case of Delhi, most such busts happen when a complaint comes the cops’ way from someone who has been cheated. The police can’t conduct combing operations in neighbourhoods on suspicion — which would be humanly impossible and also not legal in the strictest sense.

In Kolkata, though, in 2017, the police tackled fake call centres by asking all offices in the IT sector to submit details from rent agreements, employees’ resumes, gadgets used, to mode of payment. But it has been seen that they do operate from inconspicuous, unimposing one-room offices in residential areas.

Delhi’s DCP (Cybercrime) Anyesh Roy says that they have been conducting cybercrime workshops with computer teachers to inculcate the need for cyber safety. They work on fraud and social media safety, where the bottom line is that people must beware of anyone who asks for personal details.
The government has also launched an Information Security education and awareness scheme, which seeks to inform people of the need to be constantly vigilant.

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