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ATM fraud: 26-year-old physics grad ran ‘training school’ for debit card cheats

Pankaj Sahni, who set up unregistered Pankaj Business Management institute, has trained 55 men. He used to leave behind his signature ‘PBM mark’ at ATM kiosks after hacking them to attract more youth.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2017 12:48 IST
Ajay Kumar
Ajay Kumar
Hindustan Times, Muzaffarpur
ATM fraud,Bihar,Muzaffarpur
Police said Pankaj Sahni had confessed to his crime and told them that his pupils were spread across Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and even Nepal. The operations of the network were so vast that police said they had no estimate of how much money had been stolen between 2012 and 2017.(Representational photo)

At first glance, Pankaj Sahni looks ordinary — a physics graduate from a village in north Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district without a regular job and struggling to make it big in one of India’s poorest regions.

But police say the 26-year-old is the kingpin of a daring ATM fraud network that stretched across four states in eastern India and even Nepal. Not just that, he also allegedly ran a training school of sorts for unemployed youth, teaching them the art of duping unsuspecting ATM users.

Police arrested five people, including Sahni, from a brothel in Muzaffarpur on Sunday and have charged him with fraudulently withdrawing Rs 1.40 crore from bank accounts through ATMs between 2010 and 2012.

Police said Sahni had confessed to his crime and told them that his pupils were spread across Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and even Nepal. The operations of the network were so vast that police said they had no estimate of how much money had been stolen between 2012 and 2017.

Sahni’s playbook reads straight out of a Bollywood potboiler like Dhoom. Mithanpura station house officer (SHO) Vijay Prasad Rai said Sahni would stand in queue as a customer and under the garb of helping those not familiar with ATM operations, would press some key(s) after which the screen would temporarily go blank. He would then tell them that there was a technical glitch in the machine and would allegedly fraudulently withdraw money from their accounts after they left the ATM.

The SHO said Sahni even withdrew money from his account when asked to demonstrate his ‘skill’ on Sunday.

Sahni was first arrested in March 2012 after a fraud of Rs 1.30 crore was reported in loading of cash in ATM machines. He was then working with an ATM operations and maintenance firm. It was during this period that he got to know about ATM nuances and began defrauding customers, police said.

When he got out on bail in November 2012, he set up his unregistered “school” — Pankaj Business Management (PBM) institute.

Police said he had so far trained 55 men. He grew in confidence and stature as a master ATM fraudster and would even leave behind his signature ‘PBM mark’ at ATM kiosks after hacking them, possibly to attract more youth to his institute.

The police recovered a country-made pistol, two live cartridges, six ATM cards and some cash and liquor bottles from the possession of the five arrested youth. Sahni faces six cases of fraud, murder, and extortion, apart from possessing illegal arms.

Sahni, a resident of Madhuban Kanti village under Minapur police station of Muzaffarpur district, 92 kms north of Patna, hails from a poor Dalit family. He severed ties with his family after he married his classmate in February 2010 but deserted her in 2013. His family members said they had disowned him and weren’t willing to comment on the arrest and the allegations.

First Published: Jul 25, 2017 12:14 IST