Loan application extortion racket: Followed by two cases, Pune cops hunt for masterminds with ties to China and Dubai

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Pune city police discovered a big online extortion racket operating through “lending apps”, believed to be run by “masterminds” from China and Dubai.

While investigating two online extortion complaints against loan application agents, filed by Victims based in Pune, the Cyber ​​Police Station recently busted two fake call centers in Bangalore. So far, 18 people have been arrested in connection with the racketeering. Police have recovered the data of around one million citizens across India who may have been targeted by loan app racketeers.

Meanwhile, police have observed an increase in crime related to loan applications. According to the police, in 2020 cyber police stations received 699 complaints for such crimes and the number increased to 928 the following year. Until August 2022, the Cyber ​​Police Station had received up to 3,151 complaints from people being harassed by loan application officers.

At a press conference on Friday, Pune Police Commissioner Amitabh Gupta said that over the past two months an average of 25 complaints related to loan applications have been received daily.

Operating mode

According to the police, several unregistered micro-finance companies have set up loan applications or loan applications online. People claiming to work for these apps call random people and ask them to download the app to their cell phone. Once the application is downloaded, its agents have access to the contact list, photos and videos saved in the mobile phones.

The police said that some time after downloading the app, the user is granted a loan ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 7,000 on an immediate basis. Sometimes the money is transferred to the bank accounts of app users, even if they don’t apply for a loan.

Within a week, loan application officers begin making phone calls, demanding repayment of the loan with an interest rate ranging from 30 to 300 percent. If repayment is not made, agents transform photographs of loan application users with obscene content and distribute them to people on their contact list.

Police say users are harassed so severely that they are forced to transfer extortion money to different bank accounts. The money is then withdrawn from bank accounts by major racketeers, based in different parts of the country and also abroad.

The investigation revealed that the app racketeers worked in different teams. One team buys sim cards, one technical team configures app, another team provides bank accounts to collect extortion amount online. There is a separate team to manage call centers to contact citizens. Another team manages the huge amount of extortion money obtained from several bank accounts.

The recent breakthrough

Two victims of loan application racketeering, a man and a woman based in Pune, have recently filed first information reports at the Cyber ​​Police Station.

Senior Police Inspector Meenal Supe Patil said the man received phone calls regarding the loan application in September 2021. After downloading the application, he started receiving threatening calls for repayment of the loan. ready. “The victim was harassed…until June this year he transferred Rs 13.87 lakh to different bank accounts run by loan app racketeers,” the officer said.

In the second case, a woman was threatened and abused by loan applying officers and had Rs 1.11 lakh extorted from her between February and June this year. Police said the woman obtained a loan with her consent from the ‘GB Lend’ and ‘Handy Loan’ apps. Later, she was severely harassed, and officers circulated her altered images to people on her contact list.

After investigating for two weeks, police arrested 18 people in the two cases in separate actions

Seven people – Swapnil Nagtilak (29), Shrikrushna Gaikwad (26), Dhiraj Punekar (36), Pramod Ransingh (43), all from Solapur, Samuel Kumar (40) from Bengaluru, Mujib Kandiyal (42) and Mohammed Maniyat (32) of Kerala – were arrested for providing bank accounts and SIM cards, used in loan application crimes, on behalf of laborers based in Pune, Solapur, Latur, Jalgaon and other towns.

The police recovered 56 bank accounts, 167 credit and debit cards, 48 ​​SIM cards with mobile phones and 30 other opened SIM cards, 15 PAN cards, 11 Adhar cards, four voting cards, computers, laptops and other items from them. The investigation revealed that the workers were completely unaware that bank accounts, ATM cards, checkbooks and SIM cards had been obtained in their name and were being used for internet banking by app fraudsters. loan.

Police also arrested 11 people connected to fake call centers in Bengaluru – Vighnesh Manjunath (19), Ganesh Subbaraidu (26), Akash MV (19), Shraddha Gauda (25), Parvati Santosh Das (39), Ashwini Murugan (24), Shilpa Gauda (25), Priya S (23) and Deepika L (20), Sayyad Pasha (23) and Mubarak Baig (22). The search is underway for several wanted defendants, including a woman identified as Seema Gauda.

During the searches, 10 SIM cards, mobile phones and other electronic objects were recovered from the accused. Police suspect there may be more such bogus call centers linked to loan apps operating in the country.

“We have retrieved the data of approximately one million citizens across India who may have been targeted by lending app racketeers. An amount of around Rs 70 lakh from bank accounts used in the crimes was seized. We will investigate the matter further… central agencies are also involved,” Pune Police Chief Gupta said.

Asked about the masterminds, Gupta said the investigation revealed links to suspects based in China and Dubai.

DCP (cyber) Bhagyashree Navatake said there is data on several foreign nationals linked to loan app offenses and further investigation is underway. Law enforcement sources said attempts were underway to target the main defendant, who has links to China.

The investigation is ongoing to find out how the money amounting to millions of rupees obtained through the loan app racket was used by the arrested and wanted defendants. The police are also trying to find out who provided the citizens’ mobile phone numbers to the accused. An investigation is also underway to find out who created the loan applications in the first place.

Links to other “loan application” offenses

Earlier this month, Sohail Shaikh (25), a resident of Viman Nagar in Pune, who had borrowed money from a loan app, killed himself. Probe revealed that he was threatened and abused by loan application officers for the repayment of the money.

A young woman, Gauri Dange (25), allegedly murdered her 70-year-old grandmother Sulochana at her home in Warje on 13 September. The investigation revealed that Gauri had taken out a loan from an online credit platform for her expenses. To repay that loan, she had taken out a loan from another lending app. The loan application officers called him repeatedly for the repayment of the amount. Police suspect Dange murdered his grandmother so she could steal 36,000 rupees and a gold chain to repay the loan.

Inspector Kumar Ghedge said an investigation was underway to find out whether the arrested defendants were related to loan apps uploaded by Shaikh and Dange.

Police suspect that there are several gangs running loan application rackets in the country. Police have asked citizens to be aware of and avoid answering suspicious phone calls regarding loan applications.

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