Identity theft or misrepresentation is the most common method of committing financial fraud. In fact, more than 75% of all financial fraud in India are believed to involve identity misrepresentation, impersonation or the use of a fake identity.
Identity theft can occur in many ways - from physically stealing documents to hacking digital devices or even using a fake identity to steal someone else’s identity.
Sometimes criminals create fake identities using bits of other people’s real identities. For example, a scamster may use a fictitious name but photographs of a real person to create an identity.
Once a criminal has their hands on a fake or stolen identity, they look to put it to good use so that they can profit from it.
Siphoning money from bank accounts, receiving loans or credit cards, purchasing big ticket items like cars or even property are some of the chief motivations behind this crime.
The stories we are sharing here, describe different ways in which people use fake or stolen identities to defraud others.
As these stories reveal, the suffering for the victim is often severe and quite often without redressal even when the scamster is caught.
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Being aware of how vulnerable we are and ways in which we can be a target is an important step towards saving ourselves from becoming a victim and we hope these stories sensitise you to the threat of identity fraud.
Faking identity on matrimonial sites
Digital, print and news media frequently report about cases of swindling using fake identities on matrimonial website.
The story of Tanmay Goswamy however, stands out among the cases in recent times for the audacity shown by the criminal, the ease with which he was able to carry out his plans, the sheer number of victims who fell prey and the length of time for which he was able to get away with deceit.
Over a period of ten years, Goswamy conned more than eight different women by creating profiles on matrimony sites using fake names like Rahul Sinha, Hemant Gupta, Rajesh Gupta and Sanjeev Chatterji.
He would claim to be an important officer in the tax department or a well-to-do tax consultant. This would help him attract the attention of women with high incomes looking to find a partner.
After gaining their trust, he would then create a pretext to ask them for money, like a sudden loss of job due to a conspiracy or his mother’s ill health or the intention to buy a house for the life the victim and he were going to have together.
He used elaborate forgery to ensure his fake identities could not be detected using casual checks and his lies enabled him to swindle his victims of an estimated Rs. 1.25 crore or more.
This case is just one of the many that illustrate the need to verify identity of people creating profiles on matrimonial sites.
Even though such verification is not mandated by government regulations, matrimonial sites can significantly enhance customer trust and even build a strong differentiator for the service provider that takes the lead.
Pretending to be bank representatives
Pradip and Pradyuman Mondal worked as a team to con innocent people into providing them with their bank details, which they used to siphon off the money lying in the accounts of the unsuspecting victims.
Pretending to be a bank employee, one of the brothers would call up a random victim and explain that the call was about something related to their account like linking it to their Aadhaar number or preventing their card from being blocked.
While one brother tried to elicit all the required information, as well as an OTP where relevant to conduct a banking transaction, his sibling would be ready to act upon the information by immediately using the details to siphon funds off the victim’s bank account.
The money would be transferred into a mobile wallet belonging to their cousin Dukhi Mondal, who would then ensure that the money was either spent as needed or transferred ahead so that it could be withdrawn from ATMs.
The brothers were eventually apprehended after they stole almost Rs. 1 lakh from an individual in Odisha, which led to a police operation conducted jointly from sleuths in Odisha and the district of Jamtara in Jharkhand, where the fraudsters lived.
Pradip, Pradyuman and Dukhi Mondal are only one of the hundreds of cyber criminals operating in Jamtara, a district with a population of about eight lakhs that borders West Bengal.
While people pretending to be bank employees are trying to steal information from unsuspecting individuals all over India and indeed the rest of the world, Jamtara has emerged as one of India’s leading centers for cyber crimes committed by fraudsters posing as bank managers.
In fact, union Home Secretary Mr. Rajiv Gauba has described Jamtara as the hub of cyber crime in India, explaining that more than half of crimes of this nature can be traced back to Jamtara.
Providing fuel to this dark industry is the fact that scamsters are easily able to obtain SIM cards, open bank accounts and get digital wallet facilities by using fake KYC documents.
Creating social media profile using stolen identity
Alexander Nikolov was a well known social media influencer in Bulgaria.
He was a globetrotting highly paid executive switching from one high profile job to another at large firms like Airbus. Nikolov was a well networked figure in the airline industry apart from being a regular columnist and political commentator for the largest newspapers and television channels in Bulgaria.
Nikolov used his connections within the airlines industry to start a service offering flight tickets at discounted prices to customers on Facebook.
One of the people who purchased tickets through him discovered that tickets for a crucial leg of their flight had not been booked at all.
As more people experienced similar disappointment in the form of undelivered tickets, they began to interact with each other and secretly discuss their experience of being scammed by Nikolov.
When the story unfolded, it emerged that Alexander Nikolov was actually someone called Spas Vasilev.
Vasilev had created a facebook profile in the name of Alexander Nikolov and used pictures shared online by someone named Alexandre Martinez, who lived in France.
Even though Martinez never made any pictures he shared on Facebook accessible to the public, Vasilev was able to get access to them and then share them on his profile as pictures from his own life.
Vasilev was able to significantly enhance his income by simply downloading someone else’s pictures from social media and then sharing them on a fake profile as his own. Perhaps he may never have been caught, had he had not gotten excessively greedy by trying to scam people without being too smart about it, through his discounted tickets scheme.
Colluding with verification agents
Arun Kumar was searching for a job and his cousin Ravi offered to help him find a suitable one. Ravi asked Arun to give him copies of his documents, so that he had the required information for prospective employers.
A few days later, Arun contacted a well known loan provider, for a personal loan of Rs. 4.5 lakhs.
His application was submitted through a direct sale associate of the loan provider called Raaj Khosla Company Private Limited. The role of this company is to pre-verify the applicants documents.
Vivek Sharma, one of the directors of Raaj Khosla Company Pvt Ltd. confirmed that all documents for address proof, PAN card, Aadhaar card, employee ID, salary statements etc. had been verified and that Arun Kumar met all the criteria for receiving the loan.
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Eventually, a loan of Rs. 3 lakhs was sanctioned. Arun filled out the electronic clearing system (ECS) mandate to enable the transfer of EMIs from his account.
However, when the ECS was presented for collection of the first installment, it bounced. The signature on the mandate did not match that of the account holder!
This started an investigation that immediately revealed massive irregularities in the documents submitted. A physical verification of the residential address was conducted and that too turned out to be fake.
Finally, investigators were able to track Arun at his permanent address in Meerut, only by this time they knew that the man they were after was not really Arun.
The real Arun Kumar had learnt that his cousin Ravi had used the documents he had collected to impersonate his identity to get a loan and had already informed the company about it.
It turned out that Ravi had pulled off a similar scam earlier as well by managing to get a loan of Rs. 7 lakhs from another company.
In the meanwhile, another individual - Alok Verma, verified by Raaj Kohosla Company managed to receive a loan of Rs. 1.5 lakhs using fake documents like inflated salary slips.
It was clear that the direct sale associate was hand in glove with the loan fraudsters and helping them fake identity or get away with serious misrepresentation.
At the time of writing, an FIR has been filed against the Ravi Kumar and Alok Verma, along with two directors of Raaj Khosla Company Pvt Ltd.
Stealing someone’s income for life
A job card is very important document for many people, especially in rural India.
These days it is used to record workers’ entitlements under MGNREGA. It legally empowers the registered households to apply for work, ensures transparency and protects workers against fraud.
Back in the 1980s, much before MGNREGA came into existence, a job card was still a key tool for illiterate people as it would help them get a government job.
On the basis of a job card issued to him, Jagannath Kewat from Chhulkari village in Madhya Pradesh, got a job as a labourer with South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL) in 1982.
He retired from the PSU in 2016 earning a monthly salary of about Rs. 52,000 at that time. A long tenure with a government company also ensured a healthy pension post retirement.
In the same village lived Bheemsen Kewat, well known in his community as a relatively well off recently retired SECL employee, who also owned some ancestral property.
And then the police came one day and took Beemsen Kewat away!
It turned out that the Jagannath Kewat who was employed by SECL between 1982 and 2016 was the same one who the villagers knew as Bheemsen Kewat all through their lives.
They also knew a Jagannath Kewat, but he was just a poor cattle grazer struggling to make his ends meet.
But had there been no fraud, their lives may have turned out to be the other way round!
Bheemsen Kewat did not have a job card and so he stole Jagannath’s and got the government job that was on offer. At his workplace, he existed as Jagannath for 34 years. He opened bank accounts as Jagannath Kewat and even got an Aadhaar card by that name.
However, there were two critical documents where he still existed as Bheemsen and those led to his downfall.
The first was document was the revenue record for his land as he needed to provide the same name that the ancestral property was supposed to be transferred to.
The second document was the Aadhaar card of his son. The purpose remained the same. In order for him to pass on the land to his son, the father’s name had to be consistent in the land records and the son’s documents.
Today, Bheemsen is spending a lot of his old age behind bars. But that hardly provides justice to poor Jagannath Kewat, who lost a lifetime of earning and opportunity to an identity thief.
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