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March 7, 2021

FIA busts int’l gangs behind telecom frauds

Lahore

March 7, 2021

Islamabad: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has busted international gangs hailing from different countries of the world involved in depriving unsuspecting citizens of their valuable assets and cash worth millions, the FIA sources told ‘The News’.

Authorities of the Cyber Crime Wing received 100,000 complaints regarding the telecom frauds committed by the national and international fraudsters, the sources said.

The local and foreign gangsters were active in major cities of Pakistan and divesting people by using telecom expertise.

Cybercrime Wing, on the increasing frequency of fraud complaints and information involving foreigner suspects started a targeted campaign, and registered nineteen (19) cases against such gangs all over Pakistan in which 32 foreigners (30 Nigerian and 2 Afghans) were arrested, millions of defrauded money and gadgets used in scams were recovered.

Out of nineteen (19) cases, one (1) each registered at Lahore and Gujranwala, two (2) each at Rawalpindi and Faisalabad, three (3) at Peshawar, and nine (9) at Islamabad Centers, the sources maintained.

The modus operandi of these gangs varied from case to case. In one case a foreign lady contacted a person through social media and lured him by expressing her desire to marry the person, while in other cases the scammer supposed themselves as representative of some international humanitarian agencies or law enforcement departments and expressed his/her desire to invest or disperse millions of US dollars through the complainant.

The victims were asked to deposit money in bank accounts for clearance from Customs, UN, Anti-Terrorism department in order to get NOC for dispatching the promised money or parcel containing valuables. Most of the cases belonged to this category. Likewise, people were also defrauded by fake sale purchases of items that were not sent after receiving the payments, or fake job offers. For the above-said purpose, emails, WhatsApp, Facebook, telephones, spoofed numbers, and social media apps were used to contact the victims. The total loss in these nineteen reported cases is estimated to be more than forty (40) million Pak rupees.

On receiving the complaints, FIA Cyber Crime Wing, initiated the action by registering the cases in shorted possible time, and after getting a glimpse of the sophistication of fraud methods and cyber manoeuvring involved, the Additional Director General and Director CCW personally started supervision of the cases and very soon a detailed investigation flow mechanism with checklists and timelines was drawn for the uniformity and quick disposal the cases to prevent further loss to innocent citizens.

The investigators of CCW went after the accused by tracing back the money trail and his/her digital footprints by analysing the modus operandi, medium, bank accounts, phone and SIMS, spoofed number NADRA, passport and travel history records. Digital tracking of the accused led to physical arrests with the help of local police and standalone sting operations by the CCW staff. 30 Nigerians, 2 Afghans, and 2 Pakistani citizens were arrested.

Investigations of these cases revealed that the foreigners act in connivance with the locals who provide them bank accounts where the fraud money is parked and the account holders, draw out money once it lands into their account, keep their commission of 3-5 %, and hand over money to the other person-mostly another facilitator or the actual fraudster who is usually a foreigner. The end beneficiaries are foreigners who are linked with one and another through their nationality.

The money is subsequently sent abroad physically through hiding in different items, ‘hawala’ hundi, or other illegal channels. Sometimes, some bank officials were also found involved in providing the details of accounts where money can be parked before being transferred to the actual beneficiary. For this purpose, those accounts were used that were dormant for the last considerable time. The account holder had no idea that the account is being misused.

In some cases, the amount was used for shopping from prominent online shopping websites or other international mercantile websites, and deliveries were sent across Pakistan and even sometimes out of the country. Even if in Pakistan, the delivery addresses were wrong or the beneficiary picked up the item from the delivery center, hence leaving no trace.

CCW investigators got the accounts froze where the fraud money was transferred and succeeded in retrieving the amounts. Secondly where the foreigners were involved their visas and passports got verified and where their stay was illegal they were proceeded against relevant law for deportation once their trials under fraud offenses were concluded.

Once the pattern of crime was visible enough to make track and hunt it down, CCW identified different enabling factors that helped the fraudsters to operate with impunity. The foremost issue was the misuse and sketchy process with which the bank accounts were opened. Secondly issuance of fake SIMs and NADRA record that helped the criminals evade the law enforcement agencies. Another issue was the spoofed call. And lastly most important was to club these cases under one control and prepare centralized data which the future frauds could be prevented.

CCW reached out to different departments to highlight the above-mentioned issues and seek their redressal. It held meeting with commercial banks, branchless banks, State Bank of Pakistan, and PTA. Likewise, a meeting was also arranged with Facebook (FB) authorities for solving the issue of fraud through FB pages. Moreover, issues highlighting loopholes in NADRA record and visa details were communicated to the Ministry of Interior and NADRA. The issue relating to SIMs was brought to the notice of telecom companies operating in Pakistan. the spoofed call issue was also raised with PTA. Lastly, a special cell to monitor such cases was established in CCW headquarters under the supervision of an additional director to collect data, create linkages among field offices and other stakeholders, and start a mass awareness campaign.

CCW has been working to save innocent citizens from financial frauds whether it be by local or otherwise persons, and break the chain of illegal activities carried out by foreign fraudsters in and outside Pakistan to improve national security, the sources concluded.