Nearly ₹1.5 crore lost from four bank accounts in Ernakulam and Thrissur

Bank account holders flush with funds would better check their SMSs often and be alert to any sudden mobile network disruption lest they risk their accounts getting wiped clean.

These seemingly innocuous oversights helped fraudsters rob nearly ₹1.50 crore from four accounts in Ernakulam and Thrissur, the key accused behind which was recently arrested by the Ernakulam Rural police.

At the centre of the fraud were as many duplicate SIM cards, which the accused had procured using forged identity proofs and about which account holders had no clue.

Fraudsters somehow vetted and hacked into bank accounts, some of them secured with double passwords, with a balance of ₹20 lakh or more. Once they got hold of the mobile number linked to it, all that they needed was access to One Time Passwords (OTPs) to transfer the money to their accounts. This they did by securing duplicate SIM cards using forged identity proofs with the address of the account holder but with the picture of the conman who approached the network provider who seems to have overlooked this.

Though the service provider had sent an SMS alert to the customer to verify whether the request for a duplicate SIM was genuine, that message was overlooked and the duplicate SIM card was issued. As the duplicate SIM card was activated, the original SIM card became automatically deactivated and the fraudsters had easy access to the OTP, helping them transfer money to their accounts.

“The disruption in service is often mistaken as a network issue or the SIM card getting corrupt, which customers take lightly and there is a time gap in seeking redressal, which is more than enough for fraudsters to pull off their ploy. Besides, while people often check WhatsApp and Facebook, SMSs are largely ignored,” said Cyber police sources.

The police also cited the ease with which mobile service providers issued duplicate SIM cards. “We will probe whether there was any negligence or wilful neglect on the part of service providers in which case we will notify the authorities concerned. Even otherwise, we are planning to reach out to service providers to be careful while issuing duplicate SIM cards,” said K. Karthik, District Police Chief (Ernakulam Rural).

₹85 lakh lost

In three instances, duplicate SIM cards were procured from BSNL offices in Thiruvananthapuram and Aluva. In the case of a Muvattupuzha-based educational institute, which lost ₹85 lakh over two days from its current and overdraft accounts, the SIM card was procured in this dubious manner twice, sources said.

“We have also noticed that such online frauds are committed often on the eve of bank holidays so that the victim has no access to immediate relief, leaving fraudsters with enough time to scoot,” said cyber sources.

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