Kasaragod daily-wager, wife lose Rs 7 lakh as 'taxes' to get £15,000 as gift

Kasaragod district police chief Vaibhav Saxena with the cyber police team that nabbed Muhammad Sharique from Uttar Pradesh. Photo: Special Arrangement

Kasaragod: After travelling for four days, four officers from Kasaragod Cyber Police Station reached Singhai Murawan, a dusty village without even proper roads, in Uttar Pradesh's Bareilly district.

They did not have much time on their hands and started knocking on the doors of the village at 11.30 pm. All they had was a name, Muhammed Sharique, and a photograph from his Aadhaar. "We did not know what to expect so we took the protection of the Uttar Pradesh Police," said inspector K Premsadan, who was heading the team.

Bodha Police knew what to expect and sent officers in three police jeeps, and two motorcycles. They secured the perimeter.

A boy in the fourth house knew Sharique and took the Kerala police team to his house. Sharique turned out to be a 19-year-old man, sporting a teen beard.

The cyber police made the 2,300-km trip to find the person who duped a Kasaragod couple of Rs 7 lakh.

Sharique was part of a phishing team run from Singhai Murawan. "They sit around in a circle and try to strike up conversations with strangers on social media. They have several stories with them," said inspector Premsadan.

The Kasaragod couple took borrowed money and pledged gold jewellery to raise Rs 7 lakh to pay "taxes" to receive £15,000 sent as a gift by the fraudsters.

The husband works as a casual worker for a tent rental firm and the wife (34), a post-graduate in Chemistry, is looking for a job.

"It is a common story. Every month, we get around 45 complaints. Almost all of them are financial phishing frauds," said Premsadan, the station house officer of Kasaragod Cyber Station.

Muhammed Sharique, the accused in the case. Photo: Special Arrangement

Several instant loan apps resort to blackmailing to recover exorbitant money from their customers, he said. "They take screenshots of their customers chatting with nude women and use the photos to extract money," he said. Others spin stories to dupe the people. Most of the fraudsters operate from remote villages in Assam, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh. "But they could be from anywhere," he said.

In this case, a "friend" got in touch with the wife on Instagram and said he was her classmate in Class 12. "That was enough for her to open up to him," said the officer.

The wife told her Instagram friend that she was trying to get pregnant for the second time and was taking medicines for that. "This made the fraud on the other side introduce the woman to a doctor on Instagram," the officer said.

The doctor told the woman that he would be sending herbal medicines to help her get pregnant. But before the fraudsters could send medicines and charge her for that, she got pregnant.

The fraudsters immediately changed their storyline. The doctor congratulated her and said he was sending her a gift and £15,000 in cash to help her celebrate.

Later, she got a message on Instagram saying the gift had arrived and she would need to pay Rs 5 lakh as taxes to claim the money.

The woman got in touch with the "doctor" and told him that she did not have that much money. The doctor reduced the taxes to Rs 2.5 lakh.

"The couple must have googled and found that £15,000 comes to around Rs 14 lakh," said the officer.

Over the next few weeks, the woman and her husband transferred Rs 7,00,500 in five tranches to five different bank accounts.

The bank accounts were in Haryana and the recipient was one person: Muhammed Sharique.

He stayed in Haryana for some time and got an Aadhaar, which he used to open at least eight bank accounts in various banks, said Premsadan. The money from these bank accounts was transferred to other accounts using mobile payment apps. That delays tracking the movement of the money.

After the couple approached the Cyber Police on October 25, the police started keeping a watch on him. "He kept changing the SIM. But there was one SIM which was linked to an Aadhaar taken from Bareilly," he said.

The district police chief Vaibhav Saxena picked Premsadan, ASI Premarajan A V, civil police officers Savad Ashraf P V, and Hariprasad K V and sent them to Singhai Murawan.

There, the police team found that one Nasarat was the person who struck up the conversation with the woman on Instagram. They also found that one Pramod introduced Sharique to Nasarat with the promise of making quick bucks. "We will be after Pramod and Nasarat to get the money back for the couple," said Premsadan.

A Kasaragod court remanded Muhammed Sharique in custody for 14 days on Thursday.

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