A Facebook advertisement piqued the interest of Chattogram resident Shakil Ahmed Khan. It offered small loans on easy terms. He was amazed to receive money through the mobile financial service.
He paid off the loan along with interest but Pandora Credit, the app-based loan service, pressed him for more money.
Scammers at Pandora Credit took control of his mobile phone, went through his wife’s photos and made “offensive edits” to them to send them through WhatsApp and threaten Shakil.
In Chattogram, the cybercrime section of the counter-terrorism unit under Chattogram Metropolitan Police’s Detective Branch is investigating several complaints like the one Shakil filed.
The personal information of whoever downloaded the app on their phones is getting transferred to the scammers as soon as they agree to the terms and conditions.
Investigators have said the app offered profitable deals to lure in people. Because such apps are managed from abroad through local agents, it is tough to catch the main people behind the scams.
“The young people are mostly stepping into such traps. The scammers are swindling money out of them by luring them with small loans on easy terms. But if the borrowers don’t pay them the sum of money demanded, they are being sent offensive photos over social media as threats,” said Asif Mohiuddin, an additional deputy commissioner of CMP.
Shakil said he borrowed Tk 4,020 in total and paid off Tk 5,009 with interest. He filed a general diary with Halishahar police on Jan 3 after Pandora Credit started to threaten him.
Shakil said upon installing the app, he immediately received a phone call from customer care and was offered a loan.
“They sent Tk 700 to my Nagad account. They called me up several days later asking me to keep Tk 1,409 in the account and sent me a link where I’d have to click submit. The money in my account was sent as soon as I did it.”
He followed the procedure several times but then was pressed for more money. “At one point they gathered my wife’s photos from my phone, crudely edited them and sent them back to my WhatsApp. They also began threatening my relatives over the phone.”
A woman from the city’s Panchlaish area made similar complaints on Dec 27.
Sayeedur Rahman, sub-inspector of metropolitan police’s cybercrime unit, said as soon as the app is downloaded, the contact list, photos, email and Facebook ID info are all transferred to the scammers.
“The scammers take the private photos of the victims before editing and sending them to relatives for humiliation.”
The investigators said the first click on the app sends users to an application form which asks for some information. Once that is filled up, some money is sent to the users to lure them in. That money has to be paid back with interest. Users can borrow more money once that money is paid off. Taking more money puts the victim in trouble.
Rasib Khan, a sub-inspector of the counter-terrorism unit, said: “The investigation revealed that the scammers call the victims through Call Spoofing technology. They [scammers] do not provide any mobile banking agent numbers for payment. They give a link for submission. That’s made it difficult to identify them.”
Additional Deputy Commissioner Asif said the fraudsters claim to deliver loans of Tk 20,000-50,000 on easy conditions. “Investigations into online deceptions over time have shown us that groups run such applications from outside the country.”
“They have some agents in the country who contact the victims and offer lucrative deals. We’ve begun investigating this case and are on the hunt for those running the app.”
Asif also thinks that people are being scammed due to a lack of awareness. “They click the links due to temptation. Their Facebook, email and other IDs are being hacked in the process.”
He advised people to ignore links and emails from unknown people.
And anyone who falls into such traps should report it to the nearest police station and contact the cybercrime unit without hesitation.