ISLAMABAD: As the lockdown enters its second month, promoting people to go for online shopping, video conferencing and even business deals, criminals are also using cyberspace to cheat people.
The National Response Centre for Cyber Crimes of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), commonly known as NR3C, has recently busted six gangs of Nigerian conmen who, with the connivance of their local accomplices, were depriving naïve Pakistani people, particularly villagers, of their hard-earned money by promising them millions of dollars in return.
The NR3C has arrested about 20 members of the gangs, including local suspects, registered first information reports against them and obtained their physical remand from the Prevention of Electronic Crimes court.
Currently, the FIA is interrogating the accused to gather evidence and ascertain whereabouts of their accomplices and handlers.
According to initial investigation, the accused used different social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Tinder, an online dating site, to trap the people.
In one case, an accused sent a friendship request on Facebook to a complainant in Islamabad. The accused pretended to be an elderly lonely widow based in the UK who desired to utilise $20 million on welfare of children in Pakistan and asked the complainant to accomplish this task.
The accused told the complainant that because of restrictions imposed by the Financial Action Task Force, the money could not be transferred to him through banking channel and an “agent” would personally deliver this amount in a sealed locker.
In the next stage, the accused demanded $1,000 as customs clearance. Interestingly, he was asked to transfer the amount to the bank account of a local government official.
The FIA took the official into custody and then also arrested the foreigner.
In another incident, the conmen using online dating site Tinder told another complainant that they would send him $2m for investment in real estate and hotel business and asked him to deposit $1,000 in a certain bank account as delivery charges.
During the probe, relevant bank records were obtained which revealed that the complainant had deposited a total amount of Rs4.109m in different bank accounts.
Likewise, another gang through online messages offered another complainant oil at very cheap prices and asked him to pay Rs95,976 as delivery charges.
During the investigations in these cases, the FIA gathered the record from relevant banks to establish that money had been transferred from the account of complainants to those linked with the accused. These account holders were mostly Pakistani nationals and they had opened these accounts in connivance with the Nigerian gangs.
According to the investigation officer, the account holders got their share from each transferred amount.
He said that the accused persons initially asked for small amount like $1,000 or $2,000 with the promise of millions of dollars in return.
However, when a person deposited $1,000 in a bank account they demanded more money on one pretext or another.
For example, after the payment of $1,000 as so-called delivery charges or custom clearance, they asked the person to deposit another $1,000 as legal fee and then demanded different amounts for so-called paper works etc.
The investigation officer said that in one case, a complainant belonging to a remote village of Punjab paid Rs10m in anticipation of getting $20m.
The complainant through a message on Messenger was offered a huge amount for investment in some projects.
The complainant initially paid the sought amount by taking loan from close relatives and later on he took loan from other villagers. He assured every lender of repaying the loan as soon as he received money from the United Kingdom.
NR3C Director Waqar Chohan said that the current arrests were just a tip of the iceberg. He said that the FIA was seriously after the cyber criminals and efforts were also being made to arrest their foreign handlers.
Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2020