Three persons, including a Nigerian national, have been arrested by the Delhi Police Crime Branch for allegedly sending threatening text messages to jewellers across the country, asking them to pay up in exchange for “their well-being”.
The accused have been identified as Parkash (26), Vikas (24) and Idehen Solomon Osazee, who had overstayed on a fake visa, said the police, adding that the accused had targeted another set of people earlier through a lottery scam.
Several cases were registered at various police stations by distressed businessmen. The Crime Branch received its first complaint on Wednesday from a Punjabi Bagh jeweller and subsequently zeroed in and arrested the trio.
Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) Ravindra Yadav said the gang chose its target based on the conviction that jewellers were the most suitable and vulnerable targets.
“Through SMSes sent to the victim using a Hong Kong-based website, the accused conveyed to him that somebody had paid Rs.10 lakh for his murder and that they would spare him if he was ready to pay a higher amount,” said Mr. Yadav.
The victims were directed to SMS “YES” if they were willing to pay up or told to be prepared to face the consequences. If they replied in the affirmative, they were given an account number with directions to deposit the money, scan the copy of the deposit receipt and e-mail it.
“These SMSes created panic among the victims, including some Delhi-based jewellers. They were so scared that they confined themselves to their homes,” said Mr. Yadav.
During interrogation, the accused purportedly admitted to having sent threatening SMS to more than 18,000 people, most of them jewellers, across the country.
“They also disclosed that in 2012, Vikas was arrested in South-West district in a cheating case. He spent nearly eight months in jail, where he came in contact with some Nigerian inmates. After being released from jail, he learnt modern methods to cheat a large number of people at one go. Vikas then roped in his brother Parkash and Osazee,” said Mr. Yadav.
The accused allegedly arranged pre-activated SIM cards from different shops in West Delhi and purchased mobile phones and laptops through different websites.
According to the police, Vikas was using the same web portal to send bulk SMSes for phishing before his latest scam.
“Back then, he had opened accounts using fake names with different banks. Vikas provided the details of these accounts to other gangs too, mainly to his Nigerian friends and associates, for committing similar crimes and received commission from them for using these accounts. But due to increasing awareness about phishing, not many people came forward to claim the lottery amount. That’s when he realised that the business was not lucrative anymore,” said Mr. Yadav.
So far, the police have accounted for Rs.20 lakh that victims from different parts of the country had deposited in the accounts Vikas and his accomplices operated. They are now trying to ascertain whether the money was received from lottery scam or threat/extortion racket.