The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in it’s ongoing investigations under Operation Chakra-II, has taken over yet another probe involving a Chinese national in which Indian citizens were targeted in the disguise of loans, jobs, opportunities, and investments; their deposits later siphoned off more than 130 shell companies. The role of Bengaluru based payout merchant who was integral in the scam and partnered with the suspected Chinese national is under the scanner, the agency said.
“This merchant, central to the fraudulent operation, controlled around 16 distinct bank accounts, where a huge sum of Rs 357 crore (approx) was funnelled. The funds were then dispersed across various accounts deliberately to obscure the (money) trail,” the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said in a statement. Under Operation Chakra II that targets cyber criminals, the central probe agency had recently conducted searches at Bengaluru, Cochin and Gurugram, and these yielded substantial evidence, shedding light on the alleged activities of the shell companies’ directors.
The agency registered the case in connection with the scam based inputs from the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) which directly reports to the Union Home Ministry.
The case is related to “sophisticated, organised cybercrime being perpetuated on Indian citizens by foreign scamsters in the name of investment, loan and job opportunities”, it said. The CBI conducted a detailed analysis of the complex money trail and followed it by conducting the searches. “The fraudsters allegedly exploited various social media platforms and their advertisement portals, encrypted chat applications, and SMS to entice victims with promises of lucrative part-time jobs through ponzi schemes and multi-level marketing initiatives,” the CBI’s spokesperson said. The official also revealed how they pulled out the scam; “To evade detection, these criminals utilised a multi-layered approach involving UPI accounts, cryptocurrencies, and international money transfers. The scamsters used the advertisement tool of a popular web search engine besides sending bulk SMSes through “rented headers” to create a “web of deception”, according to the statement. The victims were lured to deposit funds through UPI accounts. The ill-gotten money was laundered through a complex network of UPI accounts, ultimately converging into cryptocurrency or gold purchases using falsified credentials”.
Following the registration of the case, the CBI spent considerable time identifying the directors of these shell companies. Some directors were also associated with a Bengaluru-based payout merchant, which was under the agency’s scanner. “The roles of two chartered accountants from Bengaluru were found in altering directorships and contact information associated with these fraudulent entities. Searches at their premises led to the recovery of certain documents, e-mail communications, and WhatsApp chats, providing critical insights into their alleged role in facilitating the said foreign national’s involvement in these operations,” the spokesperson said.
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) office PTI
What is CBI’s Opeartion Chakra-II?
CBI has launched Operation Chakra-II, a crackdown on transnational organised cyber-enabled financial crimes. The CBI is partnering with tech giants Microsoft and Amazon, as well as national and international agencies, to combat and dismantle illegal call centre infrastructure. The CBI conducted searches in multiple states, confiscating mobile phones, laptops, SIM cards, and freezing bank accounts. In a nutshell, the CBI aims to get a hold of all the online scams across the nation.
Under the operation, the CBI has also registered another case based on inputs from the Singapore police through Interpol in which 400 citizens of the Southeast Asian country were targeted by cyber criminals based in India. The agency has found 300 cyber frauds against Singapore citizens involving more than 100 Indian bank accounts spread across 10 states and UTs.
During the search operation under Chakra-2, the CBI searched the premises of these accused. “It was found that the accused utilised various cyber techniques, including social engineering methods such as phishing, vishing, smishing, and fraudulent tech support. Exploiting these techniques, the accused made the victim transfer funds from Singaporean accounts to various accounts in India. The defrauded funds were then distributed among other accounts or withdrawn by these cyber criminals,” the statement said.
It said the agency had deciphered the money trail after analysing 150 bank accounts by reconstructing the complex network of interconnected entities based on financial communications. Sleuths recovered documents related to identity proofs, fraudulent banking transactions, and other crucial evidence during searches at the premises of the accused spread across 35 locations in Patna, Kolkata, Lucknow, Varanasi, Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Bhopal, Chennai, Kochi and Madurai.
“The operation unmasked many accused who targeted Singaporeans and their identities were confirmed during the investigation,” the statement said.
The agency has already registered three more cases under Operation Chakra-II, including two related to cheating foreign nationals from nine call centres in the name of Amazon and Microsoft tech support, and a Rs 100-crore cryptocurrency fraud. This is not the first time Chinese citizens have been heavily linked with scams in India; most recent one was ‘NewsClick’.