Indian police bust online scam that netted $778m

NEW DELHI • Indian police have busted an Internet scam in which around 650,000 people lost a total of 37 billion rupees (S$778 million) after sending money to a company that promised they would earn cash by clicking on Web links, the police said yesterday.

The police, who described the pyramid-style scheme as one of India's biggest, said they had arrested three ringleaders on the outskirts of New Delhi and seized more than 5 billion rupees from bank accounts.

"They learnt that if you give some money back to members, the investments would go up exponentially," said Mr Amit Pathak, head of a police cybercrime unit in India's populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The men ran a series of websites that promised would-be subscribers a chance to earn five rupees each time they clicked or liked Web links sent to their mobile phones, the police said. The unsuspecting investors each paid thousands of rupees to join the scheme, but the Web links they received were fake.

The company running the alleged scam had operated for years, but earned almost all the money over a few months from last August, after it began to distribute some of the proceeds, using the beneficiaries to draw in more investors. The police said the ringleaders had not appointed lawyers as the charge sheet was still being prepared.

When the police raided the company's head office in the city of Noida, they found 250 passports belonging to employees and members who had been rewarded with a holiday to Australia. The scammers planned to film the holiday and then post it online as promotional material to lure more subscribers. The alleged mastermind spent some of the proceeds on houses, cars and celebrity parties.

Mr Pathak said it would take time to trace most of the money, and several bank employees were believed to be involved.

Cybercrime in India, home to the world's second largest number of Internet users, jumped 350 per cent in the three years to 2014 as criminals exploited booming smartphone use, a study by auditing services firm PwC and industry lobby group Assocham showed last year.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2017, with the headline 'Indian police bust online scam that netted $778m'. Print Edition | Subscribe