Is Kolkata the new cyber crime capital of India? On May 9, US-based YouTuber Mark Rober stirred up a storm with a 26-minute video documenting and exposing a disconcerting image. Four call centres, three of them in Kolkata and one in Gurugram, have been key players in the scam that has seen 60 million people across the world being swindled of almost USD 20 billion in savings, he alleged.
For this exposé, Rober collaborated with two other YouTube creators, Jim Browning and Trilogy Media, to hack into the offices of these call centres and unravel how they pulled off their scams. In less than 24 hours, Rober’s video racked up over 11 million views and stirred a larger conversation around cybersafety and the dark side of the internet.
In the video, Rober took a step by step approach to demonstrate, with audiovisual evidence, how these three Kolkata-based call centres function. He alleged that most of the call centres initiate contact with their victims by impersonating officials from e-commerce businesses, government tax bodies, or even digital antivirus companies. Through emails and phone calls, the alleged scammers reportedly manipulate the victims into transferring stipulated amounts of money to them, citing reasons like pending taxes or incorrect refunds. Rober even went on to allege that the call centres he investigated would often target people above the age of 65, thus establishing a pattern in the selection of the victims as well.
One of the most telling pieces of evidence in Rober’s collaborative investigation was the CCTV footage of these call centre offices, hacked and obtained remotely by Jim Browning, a YouTuber known for exposing such cyber crimes. The second leg of this investigation involved the creators of 'Trilogy Media' flying down to Kolkata. They infiltrated these offices through trusted informants and pranked the employees, in the course of which they also revealed the way these firms operate and the stringent security blanket that keeps them covert.
Additionally, the YouTubers had also gained access to a secret Telegram group comprising over 50,000 people employed by such call centres across India. In that group, members would communicate potential targets and risks. What's more, the members of this group were so well-connected, that they had even got wind of the YouTubers arriving in Kolkata, and sounded an alert for all involved. Death threats were also issued against the YouTubers in some Telegram messages, with one member passing the clear instruction to ‘shoot’ them if necessary.
Rober left no stone unturned in his video exposé of these call centres. He shared their names and addresses, CCTV footage from the premises, videos of people getting scammed in real-time, and even the names and visuals of those helming these firms. Some of these firms have allegedly been in operation for over a decade, and if you’re wondering why they haven’t come under the police scanner yet, Rober also gave his viewers an explanation for that. From the CCTV footage, they observed how most of these call centres have a section where some employees would carry out legitimate activities, serving as a facade for the bigger chunk of their operations that are allegedly involved in the scams. According to Rober, the cops would thus always be directed to the ‘cleaner’ section of the office, with the fraudulent activities carefully hidden away elsewhere.
At the end of the video, Rober reveals that despite reaching out to the Kolkata Police with all the evidence they collected, they have so far not received news of any step being taken to investigate these call centres. Praween Prakash, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Cyber Crime, told The New Indian Express, "Kolkata Police has taken cognizance of the video and we are actively looking into it." However, he added that they are also trying to locate where exactly these scam operations take place, signalling a jurisdictional difference between Bidhannagar Police and Kolkata Police, given the addresses that Rober mentioned were all in the Bidhannagar limits.