A 65-year-old female doctor from Delhi was allegedly subjected to cyber financial fraud on November 18, when she was looted Rs 14,50,000 and was subjected to emotional harassment.
It all started when she received a phone call on November 18 around 9:30 am from a person who claimed that he was calling her from DHL Express Mumbai. He said that a parcel containing a passport, three ATM cards, one laptop, and 150 gm of MDMA was mailed in her name with her Aadhaar number to one John David in Cambodia.
When she said she knew nothing about the parcel in question, the person transferred the call to someone, who he said, was a police official from Andheri Mumbai police station to help her file an online complaint. The ‘cop’, on the other side, asked her to share her Aadhar number, which she did, and was told that there were 18 more cases against her Aadhaar. She was told that she is among 108 suspects in a money laundering and a human trafficking case.
Over the course of the same day, she received a call from another official who said was from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). She was told by the ‘CBI official’ specifically not to let her know anything about the supposed case and who she was talking to. If she did, even those person(s) would be implicated in the case, he warned. In the end, she was forced to transfer Rs 14.5 lakh.
Below is the first-person account by the woman, which gives a blow-by-blow account of the alleged scam
On November 18, at around 9:30 am, I got a call on my mobile number. A man who claimed to be from DHL Express Mumbai said that a parcel numbered AWB7089523554 containing a passport, three ATM cards, one laptop, and 150 gm of MDMA (a contraband drug) was mailed in my name with my Aadhaar number to a John David in Cambodia 180204 (later I realised that I had got a call from a similar number the previous day as well, at around the same time of the day, which I did not receive). I told this person that I had not sent any such parcel. He then transferred my call to a police station in Andheri, Mumbai for an online complaint.
The person who spoke at this number claimed to be a constable with the Mumbai Police. He said that he was checking from some site whether any other case had been lodged against my Aadhaar. After a few minutes, he said that there were eighteen more cases against my Aadhaar. I was one of the 108 people on the suspect list of a money laundering and human trafficking case where the main suspect was Sanjay. He added that in a testimony in court, Sanjay claimed that eighteen persons had testified to transferring a total of Rs 38 crore in an HDFC account in my name. According to Sanjay, these persons had transferred the money as per my instructions, and I had retained 10 percent of this amount in the HDFC account. When I told the person pretending to be a constable that I had no HDFC account, he said that my verbal statement would have no standing in the court and that I had to build a case to prove my innocence.
The so-called police constable told me that many Indian citizens had been trafficked to Cambodia, of which about sixty were still there. They had been tortured and their various organs were removed (e.g., kidney and eye). He asked whether I realised what these persons were going through and what I would do to help them. Not being able to think clearly because of the panic that I felt upon learning that I was embroiled in a legal case of such gravity, I said that I didn’t know. He then asked what I would have done if any of the victims was a family member. To this, I said that I would have tried to save them. He said that my testimony was important in saving these people. He added that as this was a top-secret case of national security, I could not discuss it with anyone. He told me that one of the other suspects in the case, a Mumbai-based businessman, was shot dead soon after he shared the details of this case with his brother.
He then gave the phone to a person who claimed to be a CBI officer, and introduced himself as Ashok Yadav. At 10:15 am, I got a WhatsApp text from the number of the call which said “MIDC recording No. 72513/2023.” The person pretending to be Ashok Yadav asked me to send a message containing my full name along with the words “ID theft.” After I did so, he started a WhatsApp video call on the same number, in which he could see me, but I could only see the logo of the Mumbai Police, which was the display picture of this WhatsApp account. Yadav told me to make sure that I was alone in the house. So, when my house help came out from the kitchen into the room where I was, I signalled to her to remain in the kitchen. Since she could not leave the house without entering the room where I was, she was forced to stay in the kitchen for about two hours, until the call ended.
Ashok Yadav told me that an arrest warrant was out against me. I had two options; either I could face imprisonment for ninety days and be questioned in custody or I could be subjected to a “priority investigation” as I was a senior citizen, a woman, and a doctor (at some point I was asked what I did). During the priority investigation, I could not receive or make any calls or allow anyone in the house. All my assets will be examined, and if found to be legally acquired, the charges against me will be dropped. However, if any asset could not be accounted for legally, then all my assets would be frozen. If I did not comply, I would be arrested, interrogated in custody, and my assets would be frozen for two years.
At around 10:45 am, Yadav asked me to send him a photograph of my Aadhaar (front and back) through WhatsApp. Soon after I did so, I got the soft copies of a series of documents on WhatsApp from the same number. All of them had the logo of the CBI or the Government of India, and my name and Aadhaar number. The first document, titled “Confidentiality Agreement,” (image 1) was signed by a Special Director: Praveen Sood. The second document and third documents, titled “Asset Seizure Order” (image 2) and “Warrant of Arrest” (image 3) respectively, were signed by a Subhas Chandrashekhar Tayde (Metropolitan Magistrate, Andheri, Mumbai). Yadav asked me whether I had read and understood these documents. Since I was not in a state of mind to read these documents carefully, I just said yes. He explained that as per the first document, I have sworn to not share the details of this investigation with anyone.
After that, Yadav asked me to give him the details of all my assets. I was forced to tell him the last four digits of all my bank accounts, the approximate amount of money in each account, and other details of my assets. He wanted to know for which accounts I did online banking and for which I went to the bank physically. Yadav asked me to log into the internet banking of one of my accounts and tell him the amount of money in it. Given how scared I was, I twice made an error in entering the password but could log in successfully in the third attempt. When I checked and told him that there were Rs 8.25 lakhs in this account, he asked me to transfer Rs 8 lakh into a Punjab National Bank account in the name of M P Furniture (account no: 9962002100004155; IFSC: PUNB0996200 (current); state: Uttar Pradesh). He asked me to keep the remaining Rs 25,000 for my expenses. Yadav said that since many bank officers, insurance agents, and police officers were involved in this international racket, my assets could not be scrutinised in my bank branches. So, I had to transfer my money to this “supervision account” for scrutiny. Yadav asked me to use my mobile phone camera in the reversal mode and place it close to the laptop screen so that he could see if I made a mistake. I transferred the money at around 1:30 pm, and around 2:15 pm, I received a document titled “Notarized Supervision Acknowledgment” (image 4) on WhatsApp as a receipt of the transfer.
Yadav then asked me to go to the local bank branch of one of my other accounts, break a fixed deposit and transfer all but about Rs 20,000 from this account to the same so-called supervision account. By around 4 pm, I had transferred Rs 6.5 lakh from this account. Yadav asked me for the UTR number to confirm the transfer. When I sent him a photograph of a paper with this number, he insisted that I also get it stamped and signed by a bank employee. After I did as I was instructed, Yadav told me to wait in the branch until he confirmed the transfer. After some time, I was allowed to go home. Eventually, I got a receipt on WhatsApp for this transfer as well (image 5).
My daughter, who was supposed to come to Delhi from Ranchi by an evening flight called me several times during the day, but I did not receive her calls, as I was told repeatedly that whoever learns about the investigation will also become liable for imprisonment. Sensing that something was amiss, she messaged me asking why I was not picking up her calls and whether I was hurt. I kept replying that I could not tell her over the phone what was happening. She then began to ask some of my friends who live nearby to find out what was happening to me. One friend called while I was in the bank, but I did not receive her call. Another came home after I had returned from the bank, but initially, I did not let her in, as I was told that I had to be alone during the investigation. Eventually, I opened the door for her but went to another room to speak to the scamster when he called. She forced me to eat something, as I had not eaten since morning and then took me to her house where I stayed until my daughter came. I did not tell her anything, as I could not risk her going to prison because of learning about the investigation.
Yadav told me to update him about my whereabouts and activity every half an hour. Apart from information about my assets, he also asked me about my daughter; her name, phone number, what she does, whether she is married, and so on. I last updated him on WhatsApp at around 10:30 pm. At around midnight, when my daughter and her partner reached home, and I narrated to them at length what had happened that, we figured that I had been scammed. I was flooded with a sense of relief as I realised that I was not in any danger of getting arrested.
The next morning, from around 7:45 am onwards, I got repeated messages for an update. At around 9:30 am, I got a message that the court had issued an emergency notice in my name. Soon afterward, I blocked this number. We lodged an online complaint on the National Cyber Crime Portal at about 11:30 am and then went to the local cybercrime cell of the Delhi Police. After much insistence, I got a signed acknowledgement of my complaint. Since then, we have made repeated trips to this cell, and also our local thana, but an FIR is yet to be registered.
As the scamsters have much of my private information, I have had to take a number of steps to reduce the possibility of getting scammed of more money. First, we got all my bank accounts blocked. Then, I got a new phone number and got it linked in place of my old number with these accounts. I have also ensured that my Aadhaar is delinked from all these accounts, to pre-empt the possibility of fraudulent Aadhaar-enabled transactions from any of these accounts.
As I recall the process by which I was scammed, several loopholes emerged in the story that I was told by the persons impostering as the police constable and the CBI officer. Taking advantage of my limited knowledge of the law, the scamsters could convince me of the possibility of my arrest and seizure of my assets. Because of the immense fear that this created in me, I did as I was instructed. Further, I could not consult anyone as I was repeatedly told that whoever learns about this incident, will also become liable for imprisonment. Despite the ordeal that I was going through, I was struck by the politeness of the CBI officer, and his apparent helpfulness, as he patiently guided me on whatever I needed to do. When my daughter first suggested that what happened that day may have been a scam, I dismissed the possibility, as I had even got supposed receipts for the transfers, which looked rather authentic.
Although the nightmare is over, I am still very shaken. Amongst the various people to whom I have narrated the incident, a few – including a bank manager, a police officer, and some friends – have asked how I could trust unknown persons and transfer such large sums of money. Such persons fail to understand the extent of fear that the scamsters succeeded in creating in me. They are, after all, professionals in their field, just like I am in mine.
*Name changed on request.