Loans, servers in China, threats: how a network of extortionists scammed thousands of crores

New Delhi: First, the offer of attractive instant loans via apps. Then came the calls for extortion.

Delhi police cyber cell claims to have busted a multi-crore instant loan racket that spanned several states and even involved Chinese citizens in a two-month operation.

Police said the suspects lured people into offering loans and then extorted money from them. The money would then be sent to “Chinese nationals” using the hawala route and also in the form of cryptocurrencies, police said.

Twenty-two people have been arrested in the case so far, including Navneet Kumar Bharti, who allegedly handled the finances. Bharti, law enforcement sources said, studied in China.

Police sources told ThePrint that the total money involved in the racket is between Rs 2,000 and 5,000 crore.

Delhi police said they received hundreds of calls to their national crime reporting portal alerting them to the scam. The callers complained that those offering the loan would charge them higher interest rates and continue to harass, and even threaten, borrowers after the loan was fully repaid.

“A thorough technical analysis has been carried out. All apps were found to seek malicious user permissions,” DCP Intelligence Fusion & Strategic Operations (IFSO) KPS Malhotra said. “After obtaining the access permissions, the user’s contacts, chats, messages and photos were uploaded to the servers based in China and Hong Kong.”

These were then used for extortion, he said.

“The identities of a few Chinese nationals have been confirmed and efforts are being made to locate and arrest them,” the officer said.

Law enforcement sources said the scam has been in operation for 7-8 months now. It operated in three modules, with its main hubs in Thane, Bangalore and Delhi-NCR, sources said.

Suspects were lured by hundreds of such apps, hosted on Google Play Store, websites, advertisements and even search engines.


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Servers in China, daily transactions of Rs 1 crore

According to the police, the network would either use the hawala route to send the money to China or send it in the form of cryptocurrencies. The applications were hosted via AWS (Amazon Web Services) or Alibaba servers.

The suspects would send data on a user’s phone – such as contacts, chats, messages and photos – to servers in China and Hong Kong, police said.

“Citizens who desperately needed small loans ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 were forced to repay in lakhs,” DCP Malhotra said.

“Many incidents of citizens dying by suicide have even been reported in other parts of the country.”

The suspects used multiple accounts to obtain money, DCP Malhotra said. “In each of the accounts, transactions of more than Rs 1 crore were credited per day,” he said.

An analysis of application code, Call details and the financial trail showed police that the ring was spread across several states including Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

Borrowers were asked to download the apps from Google Store and complete their KYC by uploading their Aadhaar and PAN details, police said. The money was then sent to an individual’s bank account within minutes.

Meanwhile, the app they were using would access a user’s contact list, chat and pictures and upload them to a server in China, police said.

Then came the calls for extortion.

“These calls are made through recovery agents who operate out of call centers that have access to data from servers in China,” DCP Malhotra said.

Social stigma and fear forced borrowers to pay whatever was asked. The money was paid into various bank accounts, Malhotra said.

“The money collected is diverted to specific bank accounts and then after 2-3 hops it is sent to China via hawala or after buying cryptocurrencies,” the DCP said.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)


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Rosalie M. Dehner