In the early hours of April 2023, a beachside eatery in Virar started noticing an unusual pattern. Regular bulk orders for breakfast items such as idli, dosa, poha, and tea were being placed around 4 am, a time when tourists were unlikely to order food. Intrigued by these orders, which typically consisted of 40-50 plates of food and tea, the eatery tipped off the Arnala police.
The police traced these orders back to a bungalow in Virar, which also housed a dormitory. They began surveillance on the premises, curious about the individuals frequenting it and the reason behind the large breakfast orders. Their investigation led them to uncover a fraudulent operation – a fake call centre was being run from this location.
Over 40 people were arrested in connection with this operation. The police revealed that the dormitory was equipped with more than 50 phone lines and desktops, which were used by the employees to make calls and record data obtained through deceptive means. The primary targets of these calls were Australian citizens who were customers of an online financial service. The callers would fraudulently persuade these customers to share their one-time passwords (OTPs), thereby gaining access to their data.
The employees were trained to adopt fake accents and persuasive tactics to convince the customers to disclose their passwords. The police further alleged that the accused were spread across the country, each playing a specific role, including IT expertise. As is common in such fraudulent operations, the employees were paid in cash to avoid leaving a documented trail.
“These operations often relocate to maintain a low profile and avoid suspicion,” an official stated. The remote location was chosen strategically, and ironically, it was the large breakfast orders that first raised suspicions of illegal activity.
This case is not an isolated incident. In the past, similar fake call centres have been discovered in Mumbai and its outskirts, where callers posed as officials from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the US or bank employees. These centres operate like regular call centres, with employees making phone calls as service providers or customer care executives. However, they are merely fronts for fraudulent activities aimed at obtaining people’s bank and financial details.