Chennai woman loses Rs 1.5 crore to courier scam, police file FIR after 20 days

When Anu approached the cyber crime police to complain, she alleged that the officials of the Central Crime Branch Cyber Crime Wing of Tambaram police were unapproachable.
A representative picture for Cybercrime
A representative picture for Cybercrime
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In November 2023, a Chennai woman lost Rs 1.5 crore to a courier scam run by men who claimed to be from the Customs Department, judiciary, and the Central Bureau Investigation (CBI) team. When the woman, Anu (name changed), realised she had been conned, she reached out to the Chennai cyber crime wing and lodged an online complaint. Shockingly, they took 20 days to even register a First Information Report (FIR) and with the police more interested in chiding her for falling prey to a scam, Anu has lost all hopes of recovering the money.

On the morning of November 2, 2023, 56-year-old Anu, a resident of Pallikaranai in Chennai, received a phone call from a man who claimed his name was Ashish Sharma from the Lucknow Customs Department. Ashish told Anu they had possession of a package that was sent – through Blue Dart courier – to Cambodia in her name and contained items like 20 passports, four kilograms of clothes, and a laptop linked to human trafficking crimes. For the next few days, Anu was forced to be on call with the ‘officer’ continuously through Skype calls and manipulated to send all her savings to eight different accounts to prove her innocence.

Anu was told they had arrested a human trafficker called Sanjay Patil and he had revealed there was a bank account in her name and the proceeds of trafficking and money laundering amounting to Rs 38 crore was deposited in that account. The ‘officials’ warned her not to speak to anyone as they were trying to save the victims of trafficking from India to Cambodia. During the day-long Skype call, Anu had to take permission to use the restroom and to have meals.

Through relentless but polite questioning, Anu was forced to reveal all the details of her bank accounts with exact balance, savings and assets. When they told her of another account in her name at a private bank, she recalled her chartered accountant (CA) once asking her if she had an account with that same bank. This confusion led her to believe them, taking advantage of which the scamsters claimed the said account was being used to collect money from families who wanted their family members to get good jobs in Cambodia.

She was told to transfer all the money to specific accounts and assured that she would receive an acknowledgement. Anu believed the entire scam to be true and transferred her lifetime savings of Rs 1.5 crore between November 2 and November 8 to eight different accounts. 

After transferring the last instalment of Rs 55 lakh on November 8, she was told that they would call her again the next day around noon and send some papers to sign to get the money back. During the seven days of ordeal, she did not suspect any of them as they answered all of her questions politely.

After the severe mental distress, she called her daughter living in Bengaluru and revealed that she was being investigated by the central agencies. Her daughter, who rushed to Chennai on the same night, immediately realised the entire situation was a scam. Later, the duo was able to freeze the account and managed to save the last savings of Anu, totalling around Rs 18.97 lakh. 

When Anu approached the cyber crime police to complain, she found it difficult to communicate with the Central Crime Branch Cyber Crime Wing officials of Tambaram police due to a language barrier. The police also questioned her a total of four times, making her feel like a culprit rather than a victim. Overall, the process was long and delayed, she said.

Talking to TNM, Anu said that, besides the Rs 18.97 lakh, she could not get back any of the money that was transferred. “The police were very reluctant to register a complaint even though we made an online complaint,” she alleged. The online complaint was made on November 9.

Later, the duo filed a complaint against the unknown persons with Tambaram City Police, Cyber Crime Wing (CCD-1). However, the Tambaram City Police registered an FIR only on November 29 and booked the men who were involved in the crime under sections 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and 66D (cheating by personation by using computer resource) of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008. 

Anu, who is a non-Tamilian, finds it very difficult to reach the police to get any updates. She had to appoint an advocate to look after the matter. “When I first approached the police to get details of the case, they asked how educated persons like me could fall for such traps. I was also finding it difficult to communicate with them due to the language issue,” she noted, adding that as days progressed, the chances of recovering the money decreased drastically.

A senior official from the Tambaram Cyber Crime Branch told TNM that there was a delay in filing the FIR due to the circumstances and complications of the case. "There were 104 bank transactions between November 2 and November 8. We needed a lot of documents, evidence and proofs to attach with FIR," the officer said. The police officer also said the cyber crime police had already reached out to banks and requested to freeze several accounts and that they had also requested details of Skype call links shared by Anu. 

1930 is the national cyber crime helpline. If you fall victim to cyber fraud, call this number to report the incident and get assistance in filing a cyber crime complaint.

Read: Bengaluru tops cyber crime charts in 2022, reports 73.4% of cases across 19 metros 

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