Mumbai: The menace of harassment by loan recovery agents finally witnessed action by the Maharashtra cyber department; the agency has arrested five agents working with a Gujarat-based loan app firm for allegedly harassing a complainant from Mumbai. The arrests were made after the cyber department was instructed to start an umbrella investigation into the unchecked vast network of loan apps, followed by dogged pursuit of technical leads and several red herrings.
Cyber police officials said the five accused were picked up from Karnataka between Friday night and Saturday morning, and brought to Mumbai on Sunday. The accused include an MBA graduate, and they were all given a target of recovering at least Rs 40,000 per day.
Thousands of complaints against loan apps have been logged so far from all over India on the national cybercrime portal. Officials said these complaints are forwarded to the states concerned by the portal through an artificial intelligence algorithm. Over the last three years, 2,084 such cases from complainants based in Maharashtra were received and the Maharashtra cyber started with 27 cases based in Mumbai.
“We contacted each of the complainants till we reached a Mulund resident who registered a formal FIR in the matter. He had borrowed Rs 8,000 from a loan app called Happy Loans and was being harassed by recovery agents. They were threatening to send messages to his family members and friends saying that he was a rapist, along with his morphed pictures,” said Madhukar Pandey, Special Inspector General of Police, Maharashtra cyber.
The police traced the number from which he was receiving the calls and checked its registration details, which led them to a Dhule resident, Mahadu Gawli. However, the police soon found out that the actual accused had made a WhatsApp account in his name and then turned to Internet Protocol (IP) address tracing and other methods of technical investigation, which led them to Dharwad in Karnataka.
The police team reached Dharwad on Friday and picked up the first accused, identified as Ahmed Raza Hussain, 25. He was questioned on the spot and revealed the name of the second accused, Sohail Sayyed, 24, saying that he was working under him. The team left immediately with Ahmed for Uttar Kannada district, 150 km away, where Sohail, too, was picked up in the dead of the night. However, news of a Maharashtra Police team being in the district leaked out and three co-accused named by Sohail fled.
An officer who was part of the investigation team said, “The local police called in the family members of the three wanted accused and told them that being on the run would only make matters worse for everyone involved.” By Saturday morning, all the three accused –Sayyed Athar, 24, Muftiaz Pirzade, 21, and Mohammed Kaif Kadri, 22, surrendered. The Maharashtra cyber team took all the five into their custody and brought them to Mumbai on Sunday morning, after which they were placed under arrest. They were subsequently produced in court and have been remanded in police custody till June 17.
“The five accused were working as recovery agents and their job was to call up the customers of loan apps to demand the money several times a day, which included threats and intimidation. We are investigating to find out how many other apps they were working for apart from Happy Loans,” Pandey said.