Fake call centres in NCR dupe over 50,000 in 15 countries using Microsoft’s name
Gurugram and Noida police, in association with international investigating agencies such as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Interpol and Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted police (RCMP), have so far busted as many as 17 call centres in the two cities and arrested 42 people.Updated: Dec 03, 2018 08:41 IST
Over 50,000 people across 15 countries are suspected to have been targeted by an online fraud worth hundreds of crores in the name of I-T giant Microsoft, said investigators who have busted a string of unscrupulous call centres across Gurugram and Noida.
Gurugram and Noida police, in association with international investigating agencies such as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Interpol and Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted police (RCMP), have so far busted as many as 17 call centres in the two cities and arrested 42 people. The probe was taken up after software giant Microsoft Corporation lodged 17 first information reports (FIRs) — eight in Gurugram and nine in Noida — on November 27.
Microsoft reported that it had been receiving complaints from users across the globe that they were targeted by online frauds who first introduced a malware into their computer systems and then offered assistance in the name of the company. They directed the users to call centres and prompted them to pay sums, ranging between 100-1000 US dollars. Some of the prominent countries from where complaints were registered with the company are United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand.
“By getting remote access to victims’ computers, the accused stole data, identity and transmitted viruses to users’ systems,” Microsoft said in its complaint.
On November 27, the same day as the FIRs were registered, six teams from the Gurugram crime branch and two teams from city police stations concerned conducted coordinated raids lasting over five hours at eight call centres in Udyog Vihar, Sushant Lok and Sectors 49, 18, 32, 38, 44 and 10. Eighty-three hard drives, several laptops, servers and electronic gadgets were seized.
The following day, Noida Police conducted raids in Sectors 2, 3, 6, 8, 6 and Ecotech-III, confiscating 34 hard disks, 10 DVRS, 12 servers, computers, laptops, phones, cheque books, phones and Rs 5 lakh cash from the accused along with financial details of several foreigners.
“A team of over 70 officials and investigators had been working for the past four monthsafter Microsoft complained that it was receiving thousands of complaints every month from users in foreign countries. The servers, hard drives, pen-drive and systems confiscated from raids at eight call centres in the city contain database of thousands of email ids and IP addresses who were allegedly targeted. The hard drives have been sent to a laboratory for forensic examination,” said Shamsher Singh, assistant commissioner of police (Crime), Gurugram.
Singh said the exact number of victims and the amount of money siphoned off by these online criminals are yet to be estimated since it is an ongoing investigation. “We are also getting a forensic audit of the seized property,” ACP Singh added.
For the moment,investigators have ruled out a common link between the call centresbusted in Noida and Gurugram or if the fraud was being perpetrated by one person or organisation despite all of them using a similar method to con people.
”Currently, the cases are being investigated at different police stations, but it is likely that the cyber police station will take over the cases, as the probe continues,” said Singh.
Several meetings were conducted with officials from Singapore, Ireland and other countries in the probe into the scam. Gurugram police said officials from foreign law enforcement agencies had met the city police chief to present their case. Their counterparts in Noida also met the local police in October and shared action reports listing the domain address of the fake call centres that were traced to Noida, Gurugram and Delhi. Police said another meeting was held in November to discuss the plan of action and separate teams were formed.
In a related but separate development, on October 17, officials from FBI, Royal Canadian Mounted police (RCMP) and the Interpol division of the FBI had met Noida senior superintendent of police Ajay Pal Sharma to discuss the rising number of complaints against call centres active in the district that dupe foreign citizens, especially Canadians and Americans, on the pretext of providing them loans, shares and other online products.
Over the past six months, the Noida police, in association with international investigating agencies, has conducted 25 raids. Over 130 people have been arrested so far in connection with the fraud.
SSP Sharma said the complainant in all these cases was Microsoft. “The company was receiving more than 10,000 complains per month that people claiming to be from their tech support were duping users. This information was passed to the FBI and some of the call centres were traced to Delhi-NCR,” he said.
Microsoft officials said the a number of call centres in the two cities were allegedly engaged in tech support scams impacting individuals in at least 15 countries, primarily the US, UK, and Australia. The growth of unregulated call centres in India involved in such scams and frauds is indicative of the scale of the issue, it said. Victim reports indicate that this is a global problem, targeting victims from mostly English speaking developed countries, a company representative said.
“Protecting the public and building trust in technology and internet is a top priority for Microsoft. We are committed to working with trade bodies such as NASSCOM, relevant government ministries, and law enforcement authorities, to safeguard the interests of the Indian IT industry, and educate and protect the public against such deceptive cybercrimes” said Courtney Gregoire, assistant general counsel – Corporate, External and Legal Affairs(CELA), Microsoft Corporation.
Police said the accused persons used an exhaustive database of IP addresses and emails of people in foreign countries, which they had possibly purchased from online portals, to hack into the computer network or systems of unsuspecting users.
“A user would receive an email with fake pop-up error messages stating that a malware had infected their computer systems and if not rectified immediately, their personal and financial data would be compromised. The pop-up messages would be displayed on full screen mode and would lock the user’s screen/browser,” said an official from crime branch who is associated with the probe but is not authorised to speak to the media.
Police said more raids are expected to be carried out to ascertain the magnitude of the fraud. “The probe is likely to be protracted involving a perusal of extensive paper trail shared by foreign law enforcement agencies and retrieved during raids,” said ACP Singh.