‘What else do we do’: School dropouts run India’s cyber fraud hub in Jharkhand’s Jamtara
This is the Indian equivalent of the Romanian town of Râmnicu Vâlcea, dubbed Scamville, which is the global capital for cybercriminals.india Updated: Jul 08, 2017 23:57 IST
They go phishing. That’s what most “panchvi fail”, or school dropouts, allegedly do in Jharkhand’s Jamtara district to earn a living.
This is the Indian equivalent of the Romanian town of Râmnicu Vâlcea, dubbed Scamville, which is the global capital for cybercriminals.
In the first six months of this year, police arrested about 100 cybercriminals from the district and many more are on the run.
Cyber fraud is said to be a household business at Jhiluwa village in Narayanpur, a largely rural block about 24km from the district headquarters, which has two schools but more than 30 shops selling mobile phones for a population of 2,000.
“Almost every teenager in this village has a cell phone,” said Mahendra Rajak, a shop owner.
And most of the teenagers with phones are dropouts — panchvi fail, a euphemism for those who couldn’t clear lower school or Class V.
“We arrested one youth every day for online fraud during my posting in Jamtara. It’s amazing how these panchvi fails were conning tech-savvy people in the metros,” said Manoj Kumar Singh, a former superintendent of police in the district.
- Jharkhand witnessed a rise of 93.5% in cybercrime from 2014 to 2015, says NCRB
- Number of arrests also tripled from 57 in 2014 to 172 in 2015.
- At least 32 cases of cybercrime lodged in Jamtara this year from January to May, 100 arrested.
- More than 2,000 mobile SIM cards across the country used to commit online fraud in 2015 were operated from Jamtara district.
The majority of the frauds are related to phishing, wherein the caller or mailer purporting to be from a bank or a finance company seeks personal details for online transactions and takes out money from the gullible customer’s account with the data.
The money is often used to recharge e-wallets, phone service packs and go big-time shopping.
Most of the district’s people used to be reliant on farming, government jobs, small-time trade and budget tourism as Jamtara’s cliffs, jungles and rivers draw flocks from neighbouring West Bengal.
Then around a five years ago, for no apparent reason other than the spark of twisted human genius, bored young men, mostly semi-literate, with more than a passing interest in getting rich quick realised that the unpoliced internet offered a quick route up and out of the drudgery that lay in store of them.
Palatial bungalows have sprung up now amid tumbledown rural houses in this place, about 260km from Ranchi. Luxury SUVs swoosh in and out of villages — Jhiluwa, Rampur and Dumaria.
Teenagers fiddling their smartphones and having multiple SIM cards are common sight.
A 14-year-old boy of Dumaria, whose name is withheld since he is a juvenile, boasted he committed his first fraud when he was 10. He asked the customers to follow his instructions and they ended up recharging other phones from their mobile talk-time balance.
Isn’t he ashamed of this illegal work? Praveen replied hesitantly: “We are at least not killing people. There are no jobs here. Education is in a shambles. What else do we do?”
Mukesh Mandal, a 23-year-old out on bail after his arrest last year, said his elder siblings taught him online fraud tricks when he was 18 and his first crime was to transfer phone talk-time balance through easy recharge. The man admitted he knows no other work.
These young men make the region a popular destination for cybercrime investigators from across the country.
“Ten days ago we arrested a man for duping an Odisha-based police inspector’s father of Rs 2 lakh,” said K Jha, the officer in-charge of Karmatand police station.
At least 50 arrests related to cybercrime were made in Karmatand block alone this year. In the district, the number of arrests has been over 100.
Data compiled by Uttar Pradesh police say more than 2,000 SIM cards issued in different part of India were used to commit online frauds in Jamtara district in 2015. The number has grown since.
“How do we discourage the youth when they manage to earn lakhs through cybercrime? Even their parents are actively supporting them, which is a major concern,” Jamtara superintendent of police Jaya Roy said.
Social activists like Manoranjan Kunwar have run awareness campaigns to prevent the children from joining the racket. “But our efforts have mostly gone in vain.”
Most villagers deny that the boys are engaged in cybercrime. But there’s an unofficial bar for outsiders taking pictures of these villages.