BALLARI: Concocting a mix of cybercrime and flesh trade, fraudsters are conning tourists of large sums of money in Hampi. What works to their advantage is also the fact that none of the victims, who probably want to keep their pursuits under wraps, have so far come forward to lodge a complaint.
The miscreants have created a detailed modus operandi, which has led to many victims being cheated of up to Rs 20,000-Rs 30,000. The cheating strategy involves luring potential customers through online advertisements for escort services, and taking money from them more than once by sending a fake bank message of ‘failed transaction’.
Rajesh Nayak (name changed) of Ballari, one of the victims, said though many visitors to Hampi opt for escort services listed in Bengaluru or Mysuru, some of them search online for this after coming to Ballari. “However, no established escort services can be found here. The fraudsters have cashed in on this and created a network to conduct banking fraud,” he said.
Superintendent of Police Arun Ranga Rajan said these frauds have not been reported in the district so far. “If anybody comes to my office with a complaint, I can look into it,” he said.
A victim lost Rs 30,000 from his bank account
Not just tourists but some local residents have also fallen prey to the scam after advertisements for these ‘adult services’ started appearing 2-3 months ago, a victim from Virupapur Gaddi said. The fraudsters get to work once the potential customer calls the number mentioned in the advertisement, which is issued using Locanto, an online platform to post classifieds. One such advertisement said, “Call me any time: 897***1914 for call girls service and escort service. Hello guys/gentlemen, I arrange local college girls, VIP ladies of North India, Nepal, North East, 18-25 age group. Our girls are beautiful, busty, sexy and educated. A1 top class girls. If you are looking for one call or WhatsApp.” The advertisement goes on to list the services offered in graphic details.
“The advertisement stays for about a week on the Locanto website, after which a new one is published with a new number. These cybercriminals speak Hindi and English,” he said.Potential customers are led to the advertisement through simple online searches, such as ‘hot girls in Hampi’ or ‘women seeking men in Hampi’.
Upon dialling the number, a man on the other side answers in Hindi and quotes the price based on the session time. He then lays out the terms: the customer has to select a girl from the profile photos which would be sent to him on phone, after which he has to make half of the payment through internet banking or platforms such as Paytm or Google Pay. Cash transactions are not entertained, he is told.
After half of the amount has been paid, a woman calls the customer and asks for the location. After about 15 minutes, she calls him again, asking for the full payment. If the customer says he would pay after her arrival, she lures him further for the full payment.
When the customer pays the rest of the amount, he gets an immediate message, saying that the transaction has failed (the message is sent from an unknown number). The message comes really fast, before the customer hears from the bank, and is led to believe that it has been sent from the bank itself.
The fraudster calls him again, saying the transaction has failed, and that he should try once more. The same message is sent to him yet again. The defrauder then asks him for his netbanking details, saying he will withdraw money with the help of OTP. A victim told TNIE that he lost Rs 30,000 that was in his bank account after he fell for it.
Nayak, who runs a shop near Hampi, said some foreign nationals who stay for a long time at Virupapur Gaddi have also been cheated thus.The police are not aware of such frauds being committed, said Shivakumar, DSP, District Crime Record Bureau. A police official working in the cybercrime wing in Ballari said this is something new. “I will work on this to ensure an end to the fraud,” he said.