New Delhi: First came the offer of attractive instant loans through apps. Then came the extortion calls.
The Delhi Police’s cyber cell claims they have busted a multicrore instant loan racket that spanned across several states and even involved Chinese citizens in a two-month-long operation.
Police claimed that suspects would lure people by offering them loans, and then extort money from them. The money would then be sent to “Chinese nationals” using the hawala route and also in the form of cryptocurrencies, police said.
Twenty-two people have been arrested in the case so far, among them Navneet Kumar Bharti, who allegedly managed the finances. Bharti, police sources said, studied in China.
Sources in the police told ThePrint that the total money involved in the racket is between Rs 2,000 and 5,000 crore.
Delhi Police said they had received hundreds of calls on its National Crime Reporting Portal alerting them of the scam. Callers complained that those offering the loan would charge them higher rates of interest and would continue to harass, even threaten, borrowers after the loan was fully paid.
“Extensive technical analysis was carried out. It was found that all the apps were seeking malicious permissions from the user,” DCP Intelligence Fusion & Strategic Operations (IFSO) K.P.S. Malhotra said. “After obtaining the access permissions, the user’s contacts, chats, messages, and photos were uploaded to the servers based in China and Hongkong.”
These were then used for extortion, he said.
“The identities of a few Chinese nationals have been confirmed and efforts are being made to trace and arrest them,” the officer said.
Police sources said that the scam had been operational for 7-8 months now. It worked in three modules, with its main centres in Thane, Bangalore, and Delhi-NCR, sources said.
Suspects were lured with a hundred such apps, hosted on Google Play Store, websites, advertisements, and even search engines.
Servers in China, daily transactions of Rs 1 crore
According to the police, the network would use either the hawala route to send the money to China or send it in the form of cryptocurrencies. The apps were hosted through either AWS (Amazon Web Services) or Alibaba Servers.
Suspects would send the data on a user’s phone — such as contacts, chats, messages, and photos — to servers in China and Hongkong, police said.
“Citizens who were in dire need of small loan amounts ranging from Rs 5000-10000 were being forced to pay back in lakhs,” DCP Malhotra said.
“Many incidents of citizens dying by suicides were even reported from other parts of the country.”
Suspects used multiple accounts to be the money, DCP Malhotra said. “In each of the accounts, transactions of more than Rs 1 crore were being credited per day,” he said.
An analysis of app codes, call details, and the financial trail showed the police that the network was spread across several states — including Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh.
Borrowers were asked to download the apps from Google Store and complete their KYC by uploading their Aadhaar and PAN details, police said. Money was then sent to an individual’s bank account in the next few minutes.
Meanwhile, the app they used would access a user’s contact list, chat, and images and upload those to a server in China, police said.
Then came the extortion calls.
“These calls are made by recovery agents that operate from call centres that have access to the data from the servers in China,” DCP Malhotra said.
Social stigma and fear forced borrowers to pay whatever money was demanded. The money was paid to various bank accounts, Malhotra said.
“The money collected is diverted to specific bank accounts and then, after 2-3 hops, it is sent to China through hawala or after purchasing cryptocurrencies,” the DCP said.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)