News: How ‘Chinese app scams’ have been targeting lakhs of Indians, looting crores since WFH took off
New Delhi: The 27-year-old has no idea how he managed to lose Rs 46 lakh in five months. It had seemed like a good investment in September last year, when the woman told him about profits in small-time trading investments — but now, he’s a victim of what the police suspect is the latest scam in the market, in which Chinese apps have been looting Indians of crores.
He first got in touch with her after he contacted a number that was put up on social media: “earn money now sitting at home. For more contact 9xxxxxxxx”. The initial investments were minimal and the returns were about 5 per cent. He was thrilled — she was guiding him on all the investments.
Seeing the benefits, he thought it was a great scheme, and even sold ancestral land to make a larger investment. But eventually, he realised that something was off — and found that his money was gone. Finally, he approached the Delhi Police Special Cell’s cyber unit.
According to the police, the scam works by first enticing people with small payouts on investments, and once they’ve built up genuine trust in the ‘scheme’, the victims lose all their money in the blink of an eye.
These ‘schemes’ include instant-return benefits, which promise returns on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, with interest ranging from 5-25 per cent on the invested money, and coupons that can be redeemed.
Some trading schemes entice the targets by first helping them make profits, and then after a larger amount is invested, blocking them.
Another way is through betting, where users are asked to bid their money, and then after some initial returns, the individual is blocked and the amount disappears. The targets range from a rickshaw puller trying to make a Rs 5 profit on an investment of Rs 100, to people making investments in lakhs.
These scams, police say, began during the first Covid-19 lockdown that started in March 2020, and actively target lakhs of Indians every minute of the day. According to sources in the Delhi Police, these app scams took off as working from home became widespread.
Data accessed by ThePrint shows that more than seven such cases of elaborate scams, allegedly controlled by China-based entities, have been registered with the Special Cell’s Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations (IFSO) unit from 2020 to 2022. Five of these have been solved. A total of 40 people, including Chinese nationals, have been arrested so far in these cases.
Power Bank app case
One instance is the Power Bank app case, in which more than 5 lakh Indians across the country were looted of over Rs 300 crore. Eleven people were arrested in June last year, and the Delhi Police in their charge sheet said, “The Power Bank app projected itself as a Bengaluru-based company involved in quick charging technology; the server of the app was found to be based in China.”
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is probing money laundering by this syndicate.
The Power Bank app, then listed on Google’s Play Store, was found to be at the epicentre of a larger cyber fraud racket that cajoled victims to invest their money on the promise of doubling it in a month’s time, and sometimes remitting interest on weekly or daily basis. At the time, another such app about which the police received complaints was EZ Plan, hosted on its own website.
Then DCP cyber, Anyesh Roy, had said that the owners and masterminds of the app were China-based and worked with perpetrators based in India. Police claimed that this syndicate targeted people through fake websites and apps, and created shell companies to hide the money trail.
“The modus operandi of all these scams is similar — entice the targets with money by initially giving them satisfactory returns. Once the rapport is established, they ask them to make more investments, and then block their access,” a source in the Delhi Police said.