How illegal call centres in Kolkata defraud people in the UK, US and Europe

Abhishek Law Kolkata | Updated on October 22, 2019

The cyber crime unit of the Kolkata Police shut down two call centres in the heart of the city last week for their alleged involvement in defrauding thousands of people in the United Kingdom (UK). The raids, which involved 50 city police officers, led to the arrest of seven people (aged between 29 and 43) in the massive scam, involving transactions worth crores of rupees.

According to the Kolkata Police, this is just the tip of the iceberg. And, senior police officials tell BusinessLine that there are at least 12 such “illegal” call centres operating in the city and its periphery, including from the satellite township of Salt Lake. The number of such illegal call centres could be even more, if scrutinised properly.

Kolkata proper falls under the jurisdiction of the Kolkata Police; Salt Lake, the satellite township located in the North Eastern fringes, falls under the jurisdiction of the Bidhannagar Commissionerate.

“Information suggests that there are at least 12 such high-tech fraud call centres operating from Kolkata and Salt Lake,” said a senior official of the city’s cyber crime unit.

Modus operandi

These high-tech call centres generally follow a model whereby they cheat PC users through a variety of online frauds. They call up users, based primarily in Europe, the UK and the US, posing as executives of a tech major, such as Microsoft. They create a fear psychosis or convince the user to install a software or ensure that victims grant “remote access” to their computers. Once done, the fraudsters drain the victim’s bank account(s).

For instance, a user in London could get a call from a centre in Kolkata claiming that his or her PC has been infected by a bug/virus for which an urgent software/anti-virus download is required. Pop-ups are also used to trick the hapless victim and once convinced, a random link is emailed. The fraudsters either charge a lumpsum for downloading a “bogus software” or send a malware link. Once the user clicks on the malware link, his or her private information, including bank and credit card details, are accessed.

“These are global scams with each such call centre earning at least ₹4 lakh every day. The scams can run into a few hundred crore rupees annually,” a cyber crime expert said

Also read: British, Kolkata Police crack the whip on fraudulent call centres

Ironically these call centres operate like any other “organisation” with a fancy name, standard office and in plain sight, like “any other office”, said a source.

“Unless there is a complaint against, say, XYZ company, you really do not know what it does, even if it is located right in front of you,” said the expert.

Jurisdictional limitations

But, even when there are indications that something suspicious is going on, senior police officials say they are “unable to take action” since the frauds are committed overseas.

“These people generally do not target Indians. They target European and US markets. Naturally, then, such complaints are not registered with Kolkata police or Bengal police. In the absence of specific complaints, we are helpless,” said the officer.

Call centres involved in phishing scams in India are mostly based in Jharkhand or even Noida. But the Kolkata ones specifically target overseas clients.

In fact, even if action is taken, conviction of the accused is “near impossible”.

“Courts ask us to present the victims or some other proof that can be sourced from the victim who is located overseas. Obviously we cannot do so and there is consequently no conviction,” says the officer.

To top it all, these illegal call centres (which operate without the requisite permissions and are involved in defrauding people) pay “some fines” and “get themselves off the hook”.

Massive scale

One can understand the magnitude of the scam with the London Police claiming that at least 23,500 such fraud cases have been registered with their Fraud Intelligence Bureau in just over a year or so (till April 2019).

Sources say, many such frauds are “under-reported” or “are not even reported properly to the authorities”.

“If there is a specific complaint, we will take action. In fact, we are hopeful of carrying out more raids or joint actions,” Murlidhar Sharma, Joint Commissioner of Police, Kolkata Police, told BusinessLine.

Cooperation with London police

In this context, Kolkata Police’s raids last week become important as this was a rare instance of a foreign complainant, IT major Microsoft, in this case, approaching the city police.

Bhupinder Singh Bindra, the Constituted Attorneys of Microsoft Corporation India Pvt Ltd, filed two separate fraud complaints.

Cooperation with London police

To top it all, the London Police assured their Kolkata Police counterparts they would support them with “evidence” and “required proof”.

“These raids and arrests mark the successful culmination of a four-year operation. Working with Indian authorities and Microsoft, we have stopped a number of criminal call centres from preying on UK citizens,” Commander Karen Baxter of the City of London Police, was quoted as saying by different media outlets.

“This operation with Indian counterparts and Microsoft, whose good name was being traduced, demonstrates that whilst policing cannot hope to tackle fraud on its own, by working in partnership with businesses, we can achieve some justice for the members of the public who have fallen victim to such schemes,” she further added.

Published on October 22, 2019

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