In yet another case of internet frauds, a 26-year-old B Tech graduate tricked more than six lakh people into giving him their money through a Ponzi scheme which guaranteed lucrative returns for hitting ‘likes’ online.
In more than a year, Anubhav Mittal’s Social Trade defrauded as many as 6.5.lakh people of Rs 3,700 crore.
The swindle came out in the open following the arrest of Mittal and his two aides, Shridhar Prasad, 40 and Mahesh Dayal, 25, from an office in Noida’s Sector 63. They had opened a firm by name Ablaze Info Solutions Pvt Ltd to carry on their activities.
The accused used to run a portal ‘socialtrade.biz’ under which an investor had to pay between Rs 5,750 to Rs 57,500 to become a member and earn Rs 5 per click. The company claimed it earned Rs 6 per click and gave Rs 5 to investors. However, the links sent by the company were fake, police said.
When many people didn’t receive the payments promised, they started complaining. The police handed over the case to STF. It emerged during the probe that around 1 lakh people had filed complaints on emails and text messages to Ablaze for non-payment of dues.
The officials are probing the firm’s balance sheet, investors’ information, and accounts to which money was transferred. A fake server in Ghaziabad and the URL links terminated on the same server, the probe also found. It also led th police to Rs 520 crore deposited in the firm’s 12 accounts in Canara Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Yes Bank and Axis Bank.
The modus operandi ran so: It operated through a maze of dubious URLs sent to phones of subscribers that they were asked to click. Sometimes, these links would also be linked to Facebook or Twitter profiles of other subscribers. A fake server was set up where these links would terminate.
While this was so, the STF said Mittal in 2015 floated socialtrade.biz online portal to commit the fraud. The RBI, Income Tax department and Sebi were also informed for further action.
Meanwhile, the police said the Ponzi scheme was started by Mittal in 2011 while he was still doing his B Tech from Greater Noida college. In 2011, it got just Rs 70,000. Even after completing BTech, Mittal persisted with Ablaze. He had no clients, but knew the technology to how to subvert it. He sold a fake scheme and had no problem finding subscribers. Mittal and Prasad, an MBA, now hold the key to a probe that could spread across several cities.
Any Ponzi scheme is illegal and punishable under Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes Act 1978. The role of some bank officials is also under scrutiny.