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How fraudster scripted a 2-crore con by offering ‘lead roles’ in films

Cyber police arrested an actor and cyber fraudster for cheating parents by promising to get their children cast in lead roles of Bollywood and ad films featuring top celebrities
By Vijay Kumar Yadav, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JUN 21, 2021 12:25 AM IST

Cyber police arrested an actor and cyber fraudster for cheating parents by promising to get their children cast in lead roles of Bollywood and ad films featuring top celebrities. Police suspect he has duped over 100 parents of 2 crore.

Borivli resident Mahesh Gupta paid 32.69 lakh to have his 15-year-old daughter play the lead role in a film titled Bachchon ki Duniya, while a senior executive of a hotel chain in Bengaluru shelled out 16.5 lakh to feature his 7-year-old son in an advertisement for a biscuit brand.

After months of tracking of digital footprints of the suspect, the cyber police team of deputy commissioner of police (DCP) Dr Rashmi Karandikar, assistant commissioner of police (ACP) Nitin Jadhav inspector Ravikiran Nale, assistant inspectors Amit Uttekar, S Pore and others nabbed the fraudster, Apurva Ashwin Dauda alias Dr Rishi Shroff, 47, last week.

One of the complainants, Gupta, said, “In the middle of a pandemic, when there is a health emergency around, businesses are shutting down, people are losing jobs, economy is falling apart, lives of middle class and poor people are shattered, and in between all this if you see a golden opportunity that can brighten the future of your child, you are bound to jump on it.”

Gupta, who supplies spare parts of aircrafts, said, “In August 2020, I received a random SMS and next day a woman named Alisha Kapoor called me informing about an opportunity for kids to be cast in cinema and ad films.” Gupta was encouraged to view some websites of modelling agencies named Ellee Advertising, Ford Advertising, Zara Kids, etc which were allegedly run by Dauda’s company. Gupta was promised that his daughter would be cast in an ad film of a biscuit brand with Virat Kohli and Deepika Padukone and in another ad film featuring players from Mumbai Indians.

After seeing the websites, he thought them to be genuine. “Like every other parent, I also thought that if my daughter (a Class 10 student) gets some exposure to entertainment industry at an early stage it will be a good start for a brighter future for her,” said Gupta.

Dauda allegedly also sent Gupta a memorandum of understanding promising that his daughter would get 1.25 lakh for each day’s shoot.

The Bengaluru victim said, “Before casting my son, the accused wanted to take an audition and asked me to send a video of my son. He then said my son was selected and asked for registration fees of 1.25 lakh for five years of contract with his agency.”

“Dauda played his game very cleverly and would never meet his targets in-person and always spoke to them over phone. To ensure that his victims do not raise any suspicion on him, he would fix a meeting with them in any five-star hotel and would cancel the meeting at the last moment claiming that some urgent work had come up,” said assistant commissioner of police (cyber) Nitin Jadhav.

The Bangalore complainant said, “Since I am in the hotel industry I cross-checked his claims with Grand Hayat hotel where he claimed to have made bookings for our meeting which also included Virat Kohli. I found he had actually made the booking. But before my wife and I could board a flight to Mumbai, he called me saying Virat Kohli delayed the meeting by a few weeks due to Covid-19 spread.”

However, Dauda told the victims that as their children had been finalised for the shoot and the quality of the ad film would be high scale they would use costumes only from celebrity designers. Under the pretext of buying designer clothes for the kids for shooting, the accused would ask the parents to pay to refundable deposits for the clothes. He would also extract money from the parents under the pretext of buying accessories for the kids for shooting purpose.

However, it took time for the parents to understand that they were cheated. “After three months when he almost exhausted all excuses to delay the shooting further he started ignoring me. He stopped answering my calls and messages, deactivated his phone number. By this time, I had already sent 32.69 lakh to him in various bank accounts,” said Gupta. He then lodged a complaint with the Mumbai police.

“The fraudster would always make WhatsApp calls saying he is shooting at a place where cellular network was poor. He did this to ensure his conversation with the victims were not recorded and do not reflect in CDRs (call data records),” said assistant inspector Amit Uttekar.

“To ensure that his location is not traced he would use internet-based network and virtual private network (VPN) to contact his targets. He used multiple mobile phones and sim cards,” said DCP Karandikar.

Cybercrime officers also questioned him about how he would find potential targets and their contacts. “Dauda would send boys to malls and collect data of affluent people in the name of contests, surveys, etc. He would also fraudulently obtain data of car owners, doctors and people from other reputed professions from various internet sites. He has data of nearly 50 lakh such people,” said inspector Ravikiran Naale.

The Bangalore victim says that before beginning his game the accused would do a profiling of the accused. “He knew that I am from hotel industry so he first researched about my seniors and bosses of previous employments and took their names while speaking to me to build trust,” the victim said.

Dauda also contacted a fashion designer company and somehow managed to get the contacts of models and then duped them similarly under the pretext of casting them in ad films, said the police,

Graduated from a prominent college in south Mumbai, Dauda also studied at TFT Business School in Colorado, United States. He learnt acting from the acting school of Kishore Namit Kapoor, Juhu and worked nearly 10 years in the ad film industry for many popular FMCG brands.

Claiming to be a member of known cinema, TV artists, writers associations, Dauda was making a film named Trance under the banner of his company Arman Films and needed 25 lakh to make the trailer. Hence, he came up with the idea of duping people under the pretext of offering them roles with the help of fake websites.

According to the police, analysis of his bank accounts indicates that he has deceived more than 100 such parents and cheated them of around 2 crore over the past four years.

After the police arrested Dauda, Gupta went to meet him. He said, “When I went to the police station to see him, he again made false emotional attempts, asking me to spare him. His wife too was begging me, but you cannot forgive someone who has destroyed your life,”

He added, “Forget about my daughter’s career, he robbed all my savings that I had saved for my daughter’s future. When I realised that he has duped me, me and my family were in complete shock for months. My wife’s both kidneys have failed, she is now on the verge of losing vision completely. She is also diabetic. I had to face shortage of funds for her medical treatment as I had invested all savings for the kid’s future with a hope that soon I would get the refund. The last six to eight months were very traumatic and stressful for me and my family, especially in the middle of a pandemic.”

“My 78-year-old father passed away in May month. He had heart attack. But even during his last days he would keep on consoling me saying, ‘Beta, don’t worry, he (the fraudster) would get caught one day’,” Gupta said.

My daughter is a teenager and she knows that her family has been duped. She was very excited to work with film and cricket stars. But, the fraudster has shattered all her dreams. Such devastating things impact kids minds and confidence adversely.

Police probe has revealed that Dauda has a company in Dubai and investigators are checking if it was used in the fraud. His three passports, cheques books of 11 different bank accounts and agreement documents of his bogus companies have been seized.

The police believe that there are many other victim parents who still have not yet approached the police. “We urge all those victims to come forward, register their complaints, and help police,” DCP Dr Karandikar said.

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