How some initiatives help cyber victims recover stolen money

Even as law enforcement agencies across the country have struggled to find ways to deal with cyber fraudsters cheating people through phone calls and web portals, initiatives have been taken at times by individual officers, police units or at the Union government level that have provided some relief to cybercrime victims.

Some initiatives, however, that started with much bluster eventually fell through over a period of time due to lack of enthusiasm and follow up from officers.

One of the most successful methods to ensure money lost by victims was recovered was on account of the efforts of two constables from Gwalior who managed to save nearly Rs 15 crore over the last few years only with the help of a WhatsApp group.

In March 2017, constables Pushpendra Yadav and Radharaman Tripathi, attached to the state cyber police and posted in Gwalior, started the WhatsApp group named ‘Stop Banking Fraud’. Due to its growing demand, a Telegram group was also later created. The group has policemen from across the country as well as nodal authorities of major banks, payment services, e-commerce portals or aggregators.

The aim of the group is to get a real-time response from nodal agencies and aggregators, especially in the golden hour – mostly an hour or two after the crime. Once the complainant approaches the police in the golden hour, the personnel ask the nodal officers of banks, payment services, e-commerce portals or aggregators, who are present on the WhatsApp group, to stop the payment immediately.

As against the traditional means of sending an email, waiting for the right person to check it and act on it that on most occasions gets late, the WhatsApp group works at a much faster pace. Case in point is a senior citizen from Juhu who lost Rs 75,000 that he had kept aside for his cancer treatment. A caller asked him to reveal his card details and used the money to make purchases on Flipkart last August. The man’s daughter approached the Juhu police, which took the help of an officer from the Mumbai Police Crime Branch, who is active on the ‘Stop Banking Fraud’ WhatsApp group.

The officer saw that the card details had been used to make purchases on Flipkart. A request in a format that has been provided by nodal agencies was put up on the WhatsApp group around 12.20 pm on August 6 by the officer. At 12.25, a Flipkart nodal officer present in the group responded to it and soon they were informed that the transactions had been stopped. Now, all it would take is an official email and the money would be returned to the senior citizen.

An initiative that was launched by the Centre last year in mid-June was to start a national helpline – 155260 – which was changed to 1930 recently, which victims of financial cyber frauds can call to try and recover their money. However, the number has not been a success in Maharashtra due to a lack of manpower.

The way it is meant to work is that on calling 1930, the victims can press ‘1’ for getting in touch with officers from Maharashtra Cyber. An officer is meant to pick up the call and get details from the victim to freeze the bank account/s where money has been transferred by the cyber fraudster. This helpline service was important for those victims who do not have access to the Internet or are unable to complete the procedure on their own.

However, when The Indian Express called 1930 on Thursday night, no one picked up. Another call made on Friday afternoon also went unanswered.

A source in the Maharashtra Cyber department said that manpower has been an issue to run the helpline but senior officers have sent a proposal to the home department seeking an increase in manpower. A source admitted that the 1930 helpline service in Maharashtra is “active only between 10 am to 6 pm” and is not a 24/7 service, as it is meant to be.

As per information received from the department, 48,936 complaints have been received till date on the helpline and Rs 75.84 lakh have been recovered.

The Union government has also launched the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal (NCCRP – where data about cybercrime can be uploaded, using which bank accounts, where money is fraudulently transferred, can be frozen.

The Mira Bhayandar Vasai Virar police, with help from actors Shreyas Talpade and Vicky Kaushal, has made YouTube videos to spread awareness on how to use the NCCR portal to recover money. It has also started a WhatsApp helpline – 900 488 0135 – where victims of financial cyber frauds can call seeking help.

“Last year, we recovered Rs 2.5 lakh in vishing frauds. This year, we recovered Rs 3.81 lakh,” said an official from the cybercrime branch of MBVV.

Former state IG (Cyber) Brijesh Singh had started an “anti-phishing” portal where victims who had lost money to cyber frauds could upload details. The victim could, for example, provide the mobile number from where the fraudulent calls were made and the bank account where their money was fraudulently transferred, among other details.

While the initiative was started in March 2019, it has seen 6,106 complaints till date. However, over the past year, the portal is not active, as officers at the cyber police station claim that as there is already a national portal for cybercrime, there is no need for this portal.


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