In a first-of-its kind criminal case aimed to choke cyber banking fraudsters, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has launched a money laundering probe against a clutch of alleged conmen based in a sleepy Jharkhand town who make fake calls to gullible people and steal monies from their accounts.
The agency has filed as many as three Enforcement Case Information Reports (ECIRs), ED equivalent of a police FIR, against Pradeep Kumar Mondal, Yugal Mondal and Santosh Yadav and their associates whom the agency has charged to have conned numerous people in the last few years by obtaining their vital banking information over phone after posing as bank officials.
These banking crimes perpetrated over phone and using stolen e-database has seen a phenomenal rise in the last few years prompting banks to ask their customers not to share their personal account details with anyone.
"It is alleged that these people and their associates, sitting in a remote town of Jharkhand, siphoned off huge amount of money of bank account holders and have amassed assets worth about Rs 1 crore each. The state police has registered multiple FIRs against them.
"The ED has now taken over the cases under the PMLA in order to choke finances and freeze tainted assets of these conmen," a senior official in the central probe agency said.
The ECIRs are the first of their kind for the ED as they have been registered after taking cognisance of original FIRs and the predicate offence filed under the Information Technology (IT) Act and sections of the IPC.
The agency has sent a special team of its sleuths to Jamtara and its adjoining areas to obtain further leads and prepare a list of properties of the accused so that they can be attached under the anti-money laundering act.
The ED complaint, accessed by PTI, states that these alleged conmen and their associates used to "make random calls to bank account holders" residing in any part of the country and threatened them that their accounts would be suspended if they did not share their confidential banking credentials.
"On getting the customer PIN/OTP after conning the account holder they would siphon off the money to e-wallets connected with some account that they had created with banks using fake KYC details.
"These cyber banking scamsters allegedly used wallets of different banks to purchase various items or withdraw the stolen money," the ED found as part of its investigation before filing its criminal complaint under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The agency found that these people used to operate bank accounts which they had opened using the identities of other people and used to transfer the stolen money into them.
"They were using various SIM cards which they used to dispose of after committing the crime and making calls to victims by introducing themselves as officials belonging to banks and regulatory bodies like the RBI and SEBI among others," the official said.
The ED took over the case after it found that the modus operandi of this criminal act had its root in the remote and far-flung areas of Jharkhand which are traditionally known to be backward.
"Being the epicentre of such crimes, Jamtara, a small town in Jharkhand, has earned the sobriquet of being the 'cyber crime capital of India'. Scamsters based in few of its neighbouring locations like Giridih, Dumka, Deoghar among others are also fast catching up with these e-crimes.
"This brings disrepute to the entire state," he said.
The notorious story of Jamtara and its adjoining areas was recently highlighted by Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba when at an event here in May he said that more than half of India's cyber crimes are being committed by fraudsters from an "obscure place" called Jamtara in Jharkhand.
The 1982-batch IAS officer, whose cadre state is Jharkhand, had said that this town in Santhal Pargana region has become the "underbelly" of digital India due to the notoriety it received as the country's cyber crimes hub.
"Jamtara is a sleepy town in the tribal region of Santhal Pargana. It continues to be an obscure town. But in the last few years it got the notoriety as cyber crimes hub," he had said at a conference on homeland security here.
More than half of India's cyber crimes, he had said, mostly committed by fraudsters posing as bank managers, were traced back to this small town.
"These are not highly educated individuals. They are youngsters with little education. They have taken to cyber crime in a big way," he said.
The home secretary had said the region was know for petty criminals and thugs and earlier their modus operandi was drugging train passengers, looting them, stealing coal, other minerals, because the region is mineral rich.
"Now they have shifted their modus operandi and they are using smart phones to make a quick buck. This is just a simple example of a larger trend and larger phenomena. I think the arena of activities have shifted to cyber crime. Increasingly people do their transactions online, whether it is buying groceries or books, social interactions," Gauba had said.