Maharashtra Cyber Police uncovers WhatsApp cloning racket while investigating loan application cases
Maharashtra’s cybercrime department, while investigating ongoing cases involving lending apps, discovered a new racket, where cybercriminals can install WhatsApp on their phones using mobile numbers registered with other people . The advantage is that when these WhatsApp accounts are used for criminal activities, the police land at the door of the wrong person while the real criminals continue their activities.
Earlier this month, cyber police opened investigations against Gujarat-registered loan app Happy Loans after a resident of Mulund registered an FIR against its debt collectors.
The victim received messages on WhatsApp, in which recovery agents threatened to tell all his contacts that he was a rapist. The police traced the number from which the messages were received and to their surprise found it to be a vegetable vendor in Dhule.
“We brought in Gawli for investigations and he arrived accompanied by local politicians, who demanded to see what evidence we had. We showed them the messages sent from his number and Gawli put his cell phone on our desk. It was a basic model that didn’t even have WhatsApp,” an officer from the Maharashtra Cyber department said.
Police then tracked down and apprehended the five real perpetrators from Karnataka and arrested them on Sunday, after which the racket was discovered.
“According to what we have gathered so far, the defendants install WhatsApp on their smartphones and enter random numbers into the registration form. WhatsApp sends a “one-time password (OTP)” to customers to verify their identity and fraudsters manage to get this OTP through various methods like pretending to be bank or government officials and asking the original users for the OTP.Once they have it, they activate the account WhatsApp and use it for criminal activities,” Police Superintendent Sanjay Shintre of Maharashtra’s cybercrime department said.
The whole system works by chance, with fraudsters lucky if the real owner of the mobile number uses a basic model without apps. In the case of Gawli, the police suspect that his ignorance and lack of technological knowledge may have worked in favor of the fraudsters, who could have obtained his OTP.
“We have launched investigations to find out more about this racquet and to check how long it has been active,” Shintre added.
The modus operandi, however, is not new. A similar racket started a few years ago where cybercriminals logged into other people’s WhatsApp accounts from different handsets, tricking them into sharing OTPs.
Once the cybercriminals logged in, the original users were logged out and the WhatsApp accounts would be held hostage.
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