New Delhi: In May 2021, during the second wave, Vinod Kumar was running pillar to post in Delhi to get an oxygen cylinder for his wife, who had tested positive for Covid-19. He came across a WhatsApp forward, which contained a mobile number promising quick delivery of oxygen cylinders. He immediately contacted the number, and the user directed him to deposit Rs 25,000 into an SBI bank account with assurances of early delivery.
Kumar kept waiting, but neither was there a delivery, nor was his amount refunded. Calls to the number went unanswered, and his wife eventually passed away.
On 6 May, Kumar filed a complaint with the Delhi Police, and an FIR was lodged. Six months on, the police have arrested nine people for running the racket, including two ‘kingpins’ from Bihar — Pawan Kumar, a PhD student who also teaches in a coaching institute, and Kamal Kant, who holds an MCA degree.
The arrests are the result of a six-month-long investigation by the Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations (IFSO) unit of the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, which tracked down the accused in Bihar and West Bengal.
According to the police, Vinod Kumar wasn’t the only one who was allegedly cheated out of his money. Sources in the police said bank account details of the accused have revealed transactions of over Rs 1.4 crore in just 15 days in May.
“They had cheated around 1,000 people in those 15 days,” a source said.
Nine phones, a laptop, 11 SIM cards and seven ATM cards have been recovered from the accused.
6 modules, loopholes in SIM & bank account procedures
The police conducted technical analysis of the phone numbers and identified the money trail through the bank accounts. This first led to the arrest of three people from different districts of Bihar.
“During interrogation, it was revealed that they are also involved in one more case of cheating registered with the Special Cell,” DCP (IFSO) K.P.S. Malhotra said.
Further investigation revealed that the gang was highly organised and had about six different modules working together.
“Six more people were then arrested who are all residents of West Bengal and Bihar,” the DCP said.
The six modules identified are masterminds, tele-callers, account handlers, account providers, account holders and SIM card suppliers.
“The masterminds organised the modules and coordinated with each other and had initially spread the mobile numbers on social media claiming that they will provide home delivery of the oxygen cylinders,” the DCP explained.
“The tele-callers were responsible for engaging the victims and luring them into making the payment. Account handlers circulated the money into different accounts, while account providers worked on commission basis, and earned 10 per cent commission on the amount credited.”
The DCP added that the accounts into whom the money was transferred belonged to poor people.
“The account holders are generally poor people who were in need of money and opened bank accounts, provided their ATM cards and cheque books to the fraudsters. SIM card providers issued SIMs on fake IDs,” the DCP said.
The police have charge sheeted the first three arrested in the case, a police source said, adding “we will soon file a charge sheet against the six others”.
Apart from the nine arrested, police have also identified another accused, Sachin Kumar, who has been declared a “proclaimed offender”. They believe he was responsible for withdrawing the cash from the ATM. He is currently absconding.
“During investigation, it was further revealed that all the six modules have been associating themselves with other similar modules on need basis, specially the account providers and the SIM card providers who were also being engaged by different other gangs for cheating,” DCP Malhotra said.
“The racket used loopholes in bank account opening and SIM card issuing procedures,” he added. “These have been identified and the issues have been raised at the appropriate forum. Further investigation is in progress.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)