How ‘money mules’ from Pune & Nashik are aiding cybercriminals - Hindustan Times
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How ‘money mules’ from Pune & Nashik are aiding cybercriminals

Feb 19, 2024 05:04 AM IST

The emergence of Pune and Nashik youths as facilitators for cybercriminals highlights the evolving tactics employed by cyber fraud networks to evade detection and perpetrate financial crimes

In a worrying trend, the police have identified a growing number of youths from Pune and Nashik acting as ‘money mules’ and aiding cyber fraudsters by providing their bank account details to receive illicit funds in return for a portion of the proceeds. According to the police, this marks a shift from earlier instances where individuals from states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were predominantly involved in cyber fraud activities. The emergence of Pune and Nashik youths as facilitators for cybercriminals highlights the evolving tactics employed by cyber fraud networks to evade detection and perpetrate financial crimes.

The term ‘money mule’ refers to an individual who allows his/her bank account to be used for receiving fraudulent funds. (REPRESENTATIVE PIC)
The term ‘money mule’ refers to an individual who allows his/her bank account to be used for receiving fraudulent funds. (REPRESENTATIVE PIC)

The term ‘money mule’ refers to an individual who allows his/her bank account to be used for receiving fraudulent funds, typically in return for a portion of the proceeds. Such an individual often acts as an intermediary between the cybercriminal orchestrating the scam and the victim whose money is being stolen. By using the bank accounts of unlikely accomplices, cyber fraudsters can complicate the trail of illegal transactions, making it more challenging for the police to track and apprehend the culprits.

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In a recent incident, the Chandan Nagar police arrested one Abhishekh Ranade from Thergaon in Pimpri-Chinchwad for providing his bank account to cyber fraudsters in exchange for monetary compensation. While investigating a cyber fraud of 24.95 lakh in 2023, the police found that the amount had been transferred to Ranade’s account. During interrogation, Ranade claimed that he had fallen prey to a scheme wherein the fraudsters supposedly gained unauthorised access to his bank account and conducted fraudulent transactions.

Police sub-inspector and investigating officer in the case, Rameshwar Rewale, said, “Ranade is running a social media marketing firm. Through his relative, he came in contact with a few individuals from Nashik who lured him to give his bank details against which they offered him 5 lakh.”

Rewale said, “There is a racket underway in Nashik, Pune and Mumbai which targets people in social media to work as money mules by offering them handsome amounts. We are following these people and will soon arrest them.”

Elaborating on the modus operandi, senior police inspector Manisha Patil of Chandan Nagar police station, said, “They use current bank accounts as there is no limit on money transactions in such accounts. Also, as soon as money is received, they instruct the account holder to lodge a police complaint regarding hacking of his/her account so that the police do not doubt them.”

Patil said that even in this case, Ranade, filed a police complaint of hacking of his bank account due to which the police did not take any action against him for six months. It was after the technical analysis that the truth finally came to light.

Rewale said that these bank accounts are only meant for one or two days and are to be used as per the instructions of these cyber criminals. Such accounts are specifically used on Friday or Saturday so that in case of suspicion, the respective banks cannot take action before Monday till which time, the money is transferred to other bank accounts and finally into Bitcoins. In this particular case, Ranade received 100 crore in his bank account in a single day.

In another case in December 2023, the Pimpri-Chinchwad police arrested one Ashish Jaju of Kondhwa along with 13 others for fraudulent transactions worth around 200 crore which had taken place in the bank accounts operated by them.

Shankar Awtade, police inspector, crime branch, Pimpri-Chinchwad police, said, “There are three stages in this scam. The money mules only give their bank account details to receive the illegal money in return for some amount. In the second stage, there are individuals who operate these bank accounts and transfer the money in these accounts to other accounts as well as convert it into Bitcoins. The third stage is where the actual cyber criminals operate all these scams.”

According to Awtade, in the third stage, the cyber criminals get back the money from foreign bitcoins. At each stage, the people are unknown to each other and are just doing their bit for monetary benefits.

Rohan Nyayadhish, cyber expert and founder and managing director of Digital Task Force Legal Services LLP, said, “Yes, the police authorities emphasise the importance of public awareness and education in combating the proliferation of money mule activities.’’

According to Nyayadhish, efforts are underway to strengthen the collaboration between cyber police units across different regions to effectively identify, investigate, and prosecute individuals involved in cyber fraud networks. By targeting the facilitators and enablers of these illicit activities, authorities aim to disrupt the operations of cybercriminal organisations and safeguard the interests of the public.

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