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Phishermen on prowl

It’s so prevalent that it has its own show on American prime time television. ‘White collar’, as the show is called, warns us of the crime that is all around us these days.

delhi Updated: May 09, 2012 01:24 IST
Jatin Anand

It’s so prevalent that it has its own show on American prime time television. ‘White collar’, as the show is called, warns us of the crime that is all around us these days.

And, if it has not snared you yet, it will soon. All it takes is one wrong click of the right button.

It’s in that seemingly innocuous email, which bluntly states that you have won millions; in that text message, which seems too good to be true; and even in that phone call which declares you the winner of a lottery you do not even remember participating in.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), cyber crime recorded a phenomenal rise of more than 700 per cent during 2010 as compared with 2009 in Delhi.

In totality, the Delhi Police had detected and registered as many as 41 cases under the Information Technology (IT) Act in 2010. Only five cases were registered in 2009.

Compared with 2010, street crime — especially snatching and motor vehicles theft — is relatively down. But the year 2011 actually belonged to the faceless white collar criminal who depends on his computer to outwit his victims, instead of brandishing arms.

The number of such criminals arrested by the Crime Branch last year saw a massive increase of 108 per cent and 148 persons were arrested for dabbling in white collar crimes as opposed to just 71 in 2010.

These include phishing rackets, black dollar scams, phone calls from Pakistan and Nigeria and even the occasional Magic Pen caper. Add to this ATM guards and bank employees ‘stealing’ unsuspecting customers' identity through a sleight of hand.

In all, around 20 organised white collar rackets were busted. Their booty ran into hundreds, if not thousands, of crores. Out of these, however, phishing and fake profiles are admittedly giving the Delhi Police sleepless nights.

So much so, that the police had to finally wake up to the challenge, ironically with an appeal to the general public through an advertisement requesting them to use their common sense to avoid falling for these allurements.

“If one is responding to any request by means of money, why not check their credentials first?” asked Ranjit Narayan, special CP (crime).

But don’t even think of blaming technology if you fall for it for, in more than 90% cases, it’s your own fault.

“Only the means of such kind of crimes have changed. Earlier there were inland letters and then anonymous faxes promising such allurements. All these criminals still appeal to the same factor: greed,” Narayan said.

This is why, police claim, their Economic Offences Wing (EOW) has at least 1,100 cases and 1,000 complaints under inquiry ‘at any given point in time’.

And this isn’t just ‘Delhi's problem’. The Citibank fraud case, which unfolded in late December 2010 at the MNC bank’s branch in Gurgaon, saw funds around R300 crore being diverted to other accounts by the bank's relationship manager Shivraj Puri.

In January, after several gangs of phishing fraudsters of African origin were arrested in Delhi, a 24-year-old BPO employee Arti Gupta was arrested for allegedly stealing credit card details and using them to shop for luxurious goods and services online in Gurgaon.

On Sunday, the Delhi Police arrested 40-year-old Monika Singh, a housewife from Panchkula, for selling the same property to over 50 people with forged documents.

"We are currently investigating a phishing case in which a husband wanted to ‘surprise’ his wife with a seeming sweepstakes lottery amount of Rs. 3 crore. By the time his wife found out, the couple had lost Rs. 35 lakh from their life savings," said an officer.

What is Phishing

Phishing is basically the practice of seeking an advance payment from an unsuspecting victim on one pretext or another. In all, there are close to 3,000 domain names and hence an inestimable number of email accounts can be used to send fake emails.

Case Studies

He was bled of Rs. 2.8 lakh

Gurunath Lingesh
Software engineer from Chennai

Four months ago, 26-year-old Gurunath Lingesh, a software engineer from Chennai, was leading a normal, happy life. But soon, his life turned on its head and he was left running from pillar to post across two states.

“It seemed too good to be true and foolproof at first. The sender claimed that the email has been sent on behalf of Coca Cola Company and Clydesdale Bank based in the United Kingdom,” said Lingesh, a resident of MB Street near Chennai's Mount Road.

The sender(s) of the ‘lottery notification’ email declared him the sole winner of ‘one million Great British Pounds’. And then began Lingesh’s ordeal. Over the next 10 days, they systematically bled him of over Rs. 2.8 lakh in installments.

“I kept following their instructions and depositing money in the Delhi-based account numbers provided by them before the email traffic from their side star-ted thinning and, suddenly stopped completely,” said the 26-year-old.

It took some time before he realised that he had been conned. And when he finally did, he landed in the Capital to ‘look for (his) criminals’ after being shooed away by the police in his own city.

“I approached the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) in Delhi after the Chennai Police told me they could do nothing about it. They registered a case but it’s been more than a month since and nothing has been done,” Lingesh told HT over the phone from Chennai.

Meanwhile, even as Delhi Police claim to be ‘investigating the matter’, Lingesh’s own efforts have led to the uncovering of two bank accounts being operated by the gang which targeted him and seems to have a pan-India presence.

Both accounts, one in a Bhopal bank and the other in Pune, have been frozen.

Conmen call him even now

Ashutosh Kumar
A private executive from Delhi

All it took was a phone call to prise open a wound inflicted on Ashutosh Kumar two years ago. “This time, it was a woman who knew about the transactions I had made over the last couple of years and promised me a payout if I paid more money,” said Kumar, a private executive.

Mired further and further into a web of deceit — replete with mysterious tales of a dying British benefactor — this time Kumar chose to ignore the phone call, something, he admitted, he should have done with a series of emails he started receiving in September 2009.

The emails had started after a phoney text message, declaring him the sole winner of $500,000. And they ended up bestowing on him nothing but a stack of bogus winning certificates and a bank account lighter by Rs. 2.16 lakh.

"I kept depositing money in several accounts as per their directions. I realised they were fooling me when they asked for Rs. 2.5 lakh to pay as bribe to the customs clearance and ‘Immigration Police’. The woman who called me the other day made the same request," said the Mayur Vihar resident.

After several attempts to get a criminal case registered at EOW of the Delhi Police failed, Kumar went directly to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in March last year, which referred him to EOW again.

“When I approached the EOW again, they asked me to complain to the local police. I decided to write-off the money as a bad debt instead,” Kumar said, adding that he routinely gets phone calls summoning him to Indira Gandhi International Airport with the caller claiming that he or she has his ‘prize’.

“I stopped responding after I landed there once in anticipation, but had to return after I was kept waiting for hours,” he added.

Grill Session

Be a little more cautious and use your common sense

Ranjit Narayan, Special Commissioner of Police (Crime)

Why is cyber crime spiralling out of control?

Nothing is out of control, actually. It’s just that more cases are being detected now. Also, one of the reasons for this rise in number lies in the fact that more and more trained and educated persons are taking to cyberspace and misusing its anonymity to perpetrate a slew of crimes.

Why does it take long to convert a cyber crime complaint into a criminal case?

Putting a face to a Facebook/ Orkut criminal takes time. We contact international web servers — from which such fraudulent emails usually emanate — or social networking sites, for such cases. They then take their own time to investigate before handing over the details to us. We then investigate the cases before involving the local police to get to the bottom of the matter.

Does the crime branch think about cyber crime only when a case comes up?

Our officers keep meeting and interacting with the representatives of international social networking or email provider sites regularly. Also, we keep upgrading our own systems and technical knowhow, run workshops for officers attached with the Cyber Crime Cell and are slowly inducting more and more men with a knack for technology to upgrade the quality of our investigations into such complaints.

What would you advise the public?

What can be more useful than being just a little more cautious? Use your common sense whenever you get a text message or email purporting to bestow a large sum of money on you. If you’re going to respond to a transaction through your hard-earned money, what’s the harm in checking the credentials of your seeming benefactor? A quick internet search can go a long way in keeping your hard-earned money safe.