By Shahnawaz Akhtar Dec. 02, 2016
Jharkhand’s Giridih district is fast gaining the dubious distinction as the cybertheft capital of India. Boys as young as 15 are leading its cybercrime ring.
ifteen-year-old Babu*, known among his Facebook friends as Babu Virus on the Net, is no stranger to the police. The diminutive teenager with a thin face, a straggly moustache, and short hair swept high at the forehead, could pass off as any other adolescent in B-town India, save for his world-weary eyes – and his juvenile crime record.
In the last one year alone, he has been arrested thrice on the charges of cybertheft and has spent time in a juvenile home. Babu could easily be written off as yet another small-time cybercriminal if he did not belong to a tribe of young boys in Jharkhand’s Giridih district, a place fast gaining the dubious distinction as the cybertheft capital of India. And leading the revolution are Jharkhand’s young and restless.
Along with Babu this year, Rahul, a third-semester engineering student, was taken in a couple of weeks ago with Raj Kumar Mandal and Mukesh Kumar, a resident of Joktiabad who had conned as many as 22 people before the police landed at his door. All these youngsters were arrested during police patrolling, and they all had one thing in common. In their confession statements, each of them admitted to being inspired by newspaper reports of cybercrime.
The story of many of the 300-odd cybercriminals who have been arrested from the six police jurisdictions of Giridih and Jamtara districts, ironically two of the most backward districts of Jharkhand, is a tale of simple, democratic technology put into the hands of restless minds and impoverished bodies. With a population of 25 lakh today, Giridih was once known for its mica, and later for its collieries and steel-producing units. But the benefits of industrialisation have not reached most of its residents who continue to lead tough lives. Several are believed to have joined the ranks of Naxalites.
Most of Jharkhand’s young might not have the advantage of formal education, but are savvy enough to pull off cyberthefts. Cybertheft is a new kind of victim-less crime in the eyes of these young men, less messy and less dangerous than physical robbery. When you add the loopholes in the IT law, the effortlessness of fraudulent online transactions, the flat-footedness of Jharkhand’s police, or the ease of getting bail in these cases, the crime turns into a lucrative line of business. It’s thus not uncommon a sight to see police from neighbouring states congregating at these two districts to arrest eight graders and diploma engineers for their misdeeds. According to this report, between 2014 and ’15, Jharkhand witnessed a spike of 257 per cent in reported cases of cybercrime.
The tools of the trade are a fake SIM card, a smartphone, and a laptop. Groups of young people track state-wise cellphone numbers, shuffling the last five digits to get to a potential victim.
The rapid rise of these cyberraiders has led the police to believe that it might actually be an organised group that enlists young men into cyberfraud. The group puts the boys through a three-day crash course during which they are taught rudimentary mobile and internet skills and the basics of duping people. (The course is free of charge, but personalised “tuition” is charged.)
The MO is alarmingly simple. The tools of the trade are a fake SIM card, a smartphone, and a laptop. Groups of young people track state-wise cellphone numbers, shuffling the last five digits to get to a potential victim. From then on, it is a matter of convincing the person on the other end of the line to part with their PIN numbers. The callers often employ a stern, official-sounding tone and threaten their listeners with grave financial losses if they fail to share the information they demand. Most people ask the caller to take a hike, but there are several who fall for the con. In no time, money is transferred from the victims’ accounts to those in Giridih and Jamtara.
In some cases, to dodge suspicion, the youths “rent” the bank accounts of other people, who are happy to play along for a small commission. (A couple of weeks ago, the police were investigating the sudden transfer of ₹10 crore into the bank account of a betel-leaf shop owner.) In other cases, funds get transferred into wallets on e-commerce sites, which the criminals then use to make extravagant online purchases. While it isn’t easy to spot the spoils of these e-thefts, there are little hints sprinkled across Jharkhand’s villages. Several modest houses for instance, have been transformed into classier middle-class homes in the last two years.
The targets of Jharkhand’s e-robbers are spread across the country, and range from businessmen to housewives to retired army personnel. One was even a Member of Parliament from Kollam, Kerala. According to sources, NK Premachandran of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, was duped of ₹1.6 lakh in November 2015. The culprit, Pappu Mandal, a high-school dropout, was traced to Karmatand in Jamtara district. This unceasing spate of cybercrimes is an embarrassing situation for Jharkhand’s police.
All this as the network of cybercriminals spreads and metastasises by the hour. The police now have to contend with two cells of the same group in Karmatand alone: One cell plans and commits the crimes, while the other is involved in “rescue missions” of those who are arrested. Every day, it nets one more Babu or Pappu or Rajkumar, leading them away from their textbooks and into the shadows.
Babu Virus On The Net, is out now after serving his sentence at a juvenile home. He’s lying low but you can catch him sometimes on Facebook. His last post was on September 18, but it’s one of his 2014 posts that will hold your attention.
“Ishq ne ‘Ghalib’ hum ko nikamma kar diya.
Warna hum bhi aadmi teh kaam ke!”
Switch “ishq” with “cybercrime”, and you have the life of these young cyberraiders in perspective.
* Some names have been changed to protect the identity of the juvenile criminal.