Operation Chakra 2: CBI Takes Over Probe into Financial Cyber Scam Involving Suspected Chinese National

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The CBI has taken over the probe into an alleged scam involving a suspected Chinese national in which Indian citizens were targeted in the name of investments, loans and job opportunities, and their deposits siphoned off through more than 137 shell companies. The role of a Bengaluru-based payout merchant, who was central to the scam and linked 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-2 which 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 on inputs from the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C), which comes under the Union Home Ministry, according to the statement. 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. “To evade detection, these criminals utilised a multi-layered approach involving UPI accounts, cryptocurrencies, and international money transfers,” the official said. 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,” the spokesperson said in the statement. The statement said that the CBI has identified 137 shell companies, mostly registered with the Registrar of Companies, Bengaluru, which were used to siphon off the money collected from gullible investors. 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,” the official said. “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. 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. “It was further alleged that these criminals employed various cyber techniques, including social engineering methods such as phishing, vishing, smishing, and fraudulent tech support, targeting over 400 Singapore citizens,” the agency said. 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 uncovered multiple gangs involved in targeting Singaporean nationals, and their identities were ascertained during the investigation,” the statement said. The agency has already registered three more cases under Operation Chakra-2, 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.

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