‘Congratulations! You have won a lottery!’: Beware, Kashmir is the new hunting ground for cyber predators

The cases of people falling prey to cyber predators hunting for innocent people to give out some vital personal information and lose all their money are increasing in Kashmir Valley. According to banking officials, on an average, around 7-10 victims visit banks on a daily basis for help. The officials say the only way out is to stay cautious.

A fortnight ago, Seerat, a resident of Pulwama received a call on her WhatsApp number. Her WhatsApp is registered on her old number of the cellular company Aircel, which went bankrupt in March 2018.

The number from which she got the call had Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), a popular Indian Television show’s logo as its display picture.

Seerat recorded the call on another phone. The person on the other side confirmed her number and congratulated her for winning a lottery worth Rs 250000 via KBC, as part of a promotion programme of all telecom companies including Reliance Jio, Airtel, Aircel, Idea, etc.

She was suddenly reminded of her neighbour who had received a similar call and had innocently given out her ATM card details. Minutes later, Seerat’s neighbour was robbed off by Rs 50,000 from her bank account.

“I was also reminded of my colleagues who had received such calls where they were told that they had won cars. I decided to dig in a little,” says Seerat.

Instead of hanging up, Seerat decided to play up. She expressed extreme joy after the man on call had congratulated her. Seeking more details from him, she was asked to text (Whatsapp) one Rajesh Bhala, and confirm that she had won.

“Among 130 something people, I was the winner,” Seerat chuckles. “So, I WhatsApped [texted] Bhala and he called back immediately. He confirmed my number and a code ‘0044’ written on a picture that was sent to me earlier.”

You and your children are so lucky,’ Bhala told Seerat. ‘Now, you will have to send me your bank Account number, your photograph and name. I will make your file and tomorrow you will receive Rs 250000 in your bank account.’

Playing it up little more, Seerat says that she told Bhala that her internet wasn’t working well due to prevailing conditions in the valley.

“But he was so desperate that he agreed to wait a little longer than usual. Then I deliberately sent him a made up HDFC bank account number, a photograph downloaded from the internet and my fake name Phirdousa Jan,” says Seerat who had thought that Bhala would get back to her saying the account number does not exist.

To her surprise, however, the only thing Bhala was concerned about was the black and white photograph she had sent.

“I wrote the spelling of my name as P-H-I-R instead of F-I-R. That was no issue to them. My account number was fake. Again, that was no issue. They wanted me to send a colour photo though. Irony!” she exclaims.

In the morning, Bhala sent her a photograph. It was a cheque in her name with a seal of State Bank of India and Jio Company’s logo.

“It was fake,” Seerat recalls. “And it was funny. He called again and asked me to deposit Rs. 15000 in a bank account of Ganga Bahadur Sonar 36319252544 SBI, IFSC: SBIN0003721, Kolkata branch.”

In the end, Seerat told Bhala that his cheque was fake. “But when I got tired of his calls, I approached the cyber cell.”

The account number exists and as per its bank details, transactions from all over and outside India have been completed through this account. With net banking services issued on this account number, it receives around Rs 50,000 frequently.

“We are working on it [Seerat’s complaint],” says a Cyber cell official. “We are trying to close this account number.”

However, according to bank officials, there is nothing that police or cyber police can do.

Speaking about the gravity of the situation and increasing number of online fraud complaints received by banks on daily basis, a State Bank of India official says that in numerous cases with people getting victimised continue to happen across India. The numbers are increasing in the valley as well.

“On an average, around 7 to 10 such cases come to us on daily basis,” says the bank official. “There is not much that the police can do. It’s a huge nexus and very difficult to trace. The only thing that can help is to stay cautious.”

People usually do not listen to the warnings from the bank. “We even ask people the purpose of the transactions when they make them,” the bank official continues. “Since it’s a matter of lottery, they prefer not to tell us. In fact, they counter us by asking who we are!”

Apart from naive masses, well-educated people easily fall in to the trap.

Recently, in the name of Parveen Gupta, MD, SBI, a fake Facebook account was opened. From the account, bank officials would receive a text asking them to transfer Rs 10 Lacs in Jammu and Kashmir Bank account of a person named Hilal Ahmad.

“It is so widespread that even bank employees fall prey to this,” the bank official says. “They are robbed/ cheated using different approaches. Recently, when a fake FB account was opened of our MD, a complaint was lodged with Mumbai police as our headquarters are in Mumbai. It is under investigation.”

If people complaint within 24 hours of such transactions, there is a 100 per cent chance of recovery.

“But people think they will get cars, etc., and stay mum until they get cheated,” the bank officials rue.


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