When a fraud calls

Ahmed Shatil Alam writes about the different ways fraudulent gangs are using mobile phones to dupe unsuspecting citizens 

SOURAV LASKAR

SOURAV LASKAR

Different gangs of swindlers are using the mobile phone to trick people into paying them money. Some gangs use the element of surprise and fear by posing as spiritual maestros or ‘Jinn er badshah’, while others play on the greed of people as they offer big prizes, to achieve which, money needs to be sent to certain mobile phone numbers.
Recently, law enforcement authorities made a number of arrests signifying the alarming increase in these incidents in the capital and across Bangladesh.
Few months back, members of the Rapid Action Battalion-4 arrested 10 members of a gang involved in fraudulent activities from Savar near the outskirts of the capital. The news reports published on May 1 quoting a RAB-4 official reported that the suspects posed as representatives of a cellphone company and convinced their victims that they had been specially selected to win big prizes like cars, motorcycles and cash money that can be collected only if they transferred money through bKash to specified mobile numbers.
After the unsuspecting victims transferred the amount of money to these numbers, they usually found the same mobile numbers, from which they were called, switched off. In this regard, after the operation conducted by RAB, ASP Mahfuza, Operation Officer of RAB-4, told news agencies that they have received similar complaints from many victims.
From the arrestees, the elite force members also seized 32 mobile sim cards and 15 mobile phones, with which they ran their racket over the years.
Last month, a team of RAB-1 busted another gang of five members from Badda area in Dhaka for involvement in fraudulent activities over phones, according to news reports. The group was using the same technique as the former group to dupe people into paying them money.
From the group, the RAB also seized 15 sim cards, 13 mobile phones and also some fake identity cards of a leading mobile phone operator company.
There are other methods using the similar communication technology of mobile phones. Few days back, the younger sister of a Dhaka-based online journalist lost more than Tk 10,000 when she encountered such a trap.
‘One day I got a text message from a random Grameen Phone number, where it was written that Tk 10,000 was deposited to my bKash wallet,’ she says. Although shocked, she was elated that she has somehow received such an amount of money.
Five minutes later she received a phone call from a person claiming to be a bKash agent named Asgar from Barguna who told her that the money delivered to her number was a mistake and requested her to pay the money back to another bKash number. The good-natured girl soon deposited the money to the number given to her.
A few days later, she checked her bKash wallet to find that Tk 10,000 was missing from it. She repeatedly tried the numbers of Asgar and the number which were switched off.
‘Then I contacted with bKash office and they said the text message I had received was not an original message and was sent from a non-bKash number,’ she shares.
There are also frauds posing as ‘Jinn-er Badshah’ or the king of supernatural beings who were busy during Ramadan exploiting the religious sentiments of Muslims by duping them and demanding money through late-night phone calls.
Seeking anonymity, a person who recently became the target of such a scam shared that someone claiming to be a ‘Jinn-er Badsha’ called his mobile phone at 2:30am on July 10.
‘From the phone number 01857124750, a person claiming to be Jinn-er Badshah called me and recited some verses from the Qur’an. Later, I was told that I will get different assets including a large amount of gold from God that was now buried in a secret place,’ says the victim.
He also says that the ‘Jinn-er Badshah’ asked him to send around Tk 3,000 to organise a religious ceremony through which the so-called spiritual entity and his people can dig up the gold from the secret location.
The voice on the other end told the victim that he would later be told about how much more needs to be paid for information about getting the asset.
Calls came repeatedly from the same number the following day, but the victim did not answer any of those calls as he felt suspicious of fraudulent activities.
‘When I received a call on July 13, he threatened me over phone that if I do not pay the money, God will harm me,’ he says. The victim, a Dhaka based private organisation employee later tried the phone numbers since July 13 but found them switched off.
When asked about the matter, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) assistant director M Zakir Hossain Khan admitted that such incidents have been on the rise these days as many people filed complaints with BTRC over the last few months.
Although, Zakir could not share the actual number of such complaints filed with his organisation, he says, ‘We are aware of the issue…once we get any complaint regarding the matter, we track down the alleged number/s and then inform law enforcement officials to take necessary steps.’
Zakir says that most often the alleged numbers were found as unauthorised and unregistered. ‘Therefore it is difficult to trace the person using the number,’ he says.
To tackle the issue, the BTRC is planning to set up a database where all the phone numbers and the details of their owners will be stored.
‘Also, we have initiated the process where sim sellers will sell sim cards against National ID cards. This will hopefully reduce the rate of such crimes,’ he says.
While talking to New Age Xtra, RAB officials shared that such crimes originated mostly from Darbast union under Gobindaganj upazila of Gaibandha where the village residents did nothing but run such scams. The ringleader of the village and gang was Azmal, who started his scam business about seven to eight years ago, he adds.
Last year, Azmal was arrested by RAB 13. During his interrogation, Azmal reportedly provided details on how the scams were run.
‘After the mobile phone network covered the entire country, Azmal started phoning people in the middle of the night claiming to be Jinn-er Badshah and demanding money through mobile banking,’ Kismat Hayat, operation officer of RAB 13 tells New Age Xtra.
He also adds that around 30 to 40 groups of people are involved in such scams although most of them are not active in recent days, following several drives conducted by the law enforcement agencies against them.
‘These people are basically playing with people’s weaknesses regarding religion and other sentimental issues,’ he says.
As the groups are scattered, if RAB arrests one group, then another group initiates similar activities by using unauthorised mobile numbers, he adds.