A gang of 4 cyber fraudsters was arrested for running a fake franchise and dealership of popular brand Haldiram and duping several innocent business aspirants by extorting money from them. The web designer and publisher were also among the ones arrested. Apart from this, 17 bank accounts were frozen and 126 cyber-fraud incidents across 16 states were found linked to this gang. They fooled people in the name of giving franchise of brands like Haldiram, Amul, Patanjali, etc.
One of the girls from Delhi-NCR came across their website and was guided over the next few days through several steps including the filing of forms, submission of documents, etc. She was also asked to pay for various charges such as application form processing, document verification, security deposit, brand-name usage, hardware advance, site-inspection fee, etc.
She ended up paying Rs.11.74 lakh over a period of two months in which she was repeatedly guided by ‘Haldiram’ officials, who identified themselves as Ashish Kumar and Ravi Kumar. It was only when she was asked to pay another Rs.1.6 lakh on a flimsy ground that she realized that she had been cheated by these fraudsters in the name of the Haldiram dealership.
She immediately reported the online fraud and the CyPAD Unit took up an investigation. During the course of the investigation, it was found that a large number of websites were running in the name of M/s Haldiram, and all these websites are offering franchisees of M/s Haldiram against consideration of huge amounts. The websites which have come to notice so far are: -
Based on the technical details brought out during the investigation, it was also found that a large number of people across the country have become victims of these fake websites. It was found that the fraudsters are using multiple bank accounts and a large number of bogus SIM cards running in more than 36 smartphones to cheat people. The details of all these were obtained and the suspects were zeroed in.
The investigation led to the discovery of the fact that the gang involved is spread out in various parts of India. Teams under officers of CyPAD, including Insp. Arun Tyagi, Insp. Kuldeep Sharma, Insp. Sanjeev Solanki, Insp. Samarpal and others were formed to conduct simultaneous raids/investigations at various places in India including Nalanda (Bihar), Faridabad (Haryana), Ludhiana (Punjab) and Delhi on the night intervening 27-28.08.2021.
Simultaneous raids at many hideouts led to the arrest of 4 members of this gang including its mastermind, Vikas Mistry from Nalanda, Bihar, and its Technical Support, one Vinay Vikram Singh from Faridabad (Haryana) who is CEO of an IT services company.
The examination of the devices recovered from the arrested accused and the data related to the fake websites of M/s Haldiram revealed that the accused were also running fake sites of reputed brands such as Amul and Patanjali. These websites were being used to dupe innocent victims all over India. The accused persons got these impersonating websites developed, then got their similar-sounding domains registered, and also got these fake sites enlisted/promoted through Google Ads for higher ranking and visibility whenever anyone searches on Google about these brands and relevant keywords such as dealership, distributorship, franchisee, etc.
On interrogation, accused Vikash revealed that he along with his associates used to purchase the domain names consisting of the names of big brands such as M/s Haldiram, Amul, Patanjali, etc., from various developers including Vinay Vikram Singh. He used to get the websites developed in such a manner that they appeared as the genuine website of the big brands.
One phone number was also displayed on the website. When someone called on the given number for distributorship of the brand, he was asked to pay fees on the pretext of various charges. Vikash used to switch locations between Bihar and Ludhiana. In Ludhiana, he used to stay for months and do the same work there with accused Vinod and Santosh, who both are his relatives. They were given a commission from the cheated amount.
The analysis of the bank accounts, mobile numbers and the devices recovered from the arrested accused reveals that they are involved in 126 instances of similar fraud across 16 States and UTs. The cheated amount linked to this gang is over ₹1.1 Crore.
Further investigation is in progress.
- Do not blindly go to the top listings of any online search result. They may be promoted/advertised websites that do not truly represent the searched brand, company, or organization.
- Look out for genuine websites from verified sources such as Blue-Ticked (verified) social media accounts.
- No genuine company or organization will demand large sums of money transfers to private bank accounts.
- Before making payments for any service, enquire about the physical address of persons involved, their supervisors’ details, official mail IDs, landline numbers, etc.
- It is advisable to make secondary checks about the website domain/URL from open source.
- If the website is recently registered and its ownership details are hidden, then its activity may be treated as suspicious, till proved otherwise.