The Indore unit of Madhya Pradesh police’s Cyber Cell has arrested 78 people in India for allegedly duping U.S. citizens of about $1.7 million in an online call scam where Bitcoin was demanded. Tele callers who were among those nabbed spoke in an American accent and used software to obtain a victim’s social security number, according to a local media’s report on June 12, 2019.
Per the report, India’s police have arrested 78 people including 19 women in Madhya Pradesh, a state in India for a call center scam targeting U.S citizens. The accused are aged between 18 to 32 years and they allegedly operated three fake call centers in different locations in the state.
According to the police, it had been tipped off of a suspicious activity being carried out in these locations which led to the arrest of the gang leader, Javed Menon. The gang leader had been operating online call centers for the past one year and he was arrested alongside 77 other people on June 11, 2019. A majority of those arrested were Tele callers who spoke English with U.S. accent in a bid to defraud people.
While revealing how the scam took place, the police said the defendants used special software to send voicemails and call unsuspecting people claiming that they are from the US social security unit. Victims were told their social security number was used for money laundering and smuggling of narcotic substances.
To resolve the issue on their behalf, the Tele callers asked victims to pay between $50 to $5,000 if not their social security number will be blocked and they will face the full force of the law. The money, on the other hand, was either paid in Bitcoin, gift card, or other online means of payment.
In some cases, payment was sent to a U.S. bank account or middlemen before being transferred to India through hawala, a remittance channel that demands 40 percent commission. The total amount which the gang illegally obtained through the scam amounted to around Rs 12 crore (about $1.7 million).
Jitendra Singh, Superintendent of Police, Cyber Cell-Indore while speaking to the media said:
“Cops recovered 60 computers, 70 cellphones, server and other gadgets from their possession. They had obtained social security numbers of 10 lakh US citizens, their mobile numbers and other confidential details.”
On the other hand, Javed Menon, the gang’s leader and his two associates, Shahrukh Menon and Bhavil Prajapati were in a local court who remanded them in police custody until June 14, 2019. The 75 others have been sent to jail under judicial custody.
A crime of this nature is not the first of its kind, especially one where payments are also received in Bitcoin. In April this year, New York’s Police Department (NYPD) alerted the public of scammers disguising as Social Security Administration officials to demand Bitcoin from people.
NYPD added that in 2019 alone, it has received over 200 complaints of social security scam and noted losses amounting to over $2 million. The number is a significant increment from 2018 where it received only two calls relating to this scam. People have, therefore, been advised to hang up their phones whenever they receive such calls.
Another similar cybercrime targeted at obtaining cryptocurrency is SIM swapping where a victim’s phone number is hijacked and then migrated to another number. In February 2019, a federal jury indicted two men, Matthew Gene Ditman, a 23-year-old and Ahmad Wagaafe Hared, a 21-year-old for identity theft and conspiracy to commit computer fraud. The duo used SIM swapping method to illegally obtain cryptocurrency from investors and companies.
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