Asansol, a Bengal-based industrial town near the state's border with Jharkhand, is often the origin of suspicious SMS messages. Whether it's a fake job offer or a notice that your home's electricity supply will be terminated in a matter of hours, it's likely that these messages came from cybercriminals operating in Asansol.
As authorities crack down on cybercrime in Jamtara, a poverty-stricken district in Jharkhand that has gained notoriety for its prevalence of illegal online activities, criminal gangs have started relocating to small pockets in Asansol, a neighboring industrial town that is less than 40km away. These cybercriminals have now resorted to new tactics, having previously duped victims by claiming their bank account had been blocked or debit card deactivated.
According to Mohammad Ghazi, a former cybercriminal in Neamatpur, Asansol, the gangs prey on people's fears, greed, and insecurities. He stated that people fall into their trap when they receive SMSs about power disconnections during the hot weather or when they are lured in by work-from-home offers that offer a handsome payout. They often click on the provided link, giving the gangs access to their details through an app. Ghazi claims to have reformed after some of his associates were caught by the authorities.
Asansol's appeal as a safe haven for cybercriminals is not solely due to the crackdown on Jamtara. According to sources, several of the cybercriminals have family members residing in Asansol, making it a convenient place to seek refuge and restart their illegal activities.
According to Ramu Paswan, it has become quite risky to conduct their cybercrime operations from Jamtara, as every cell phone tower is being monitored by cybercrime officers, who immediately take action as soon as a call is made. In order to avoid such risks, Paswan now resides in a slum on Lithuria Road and has shifted his operations to Asansol, where he is assisted by local youths to make calls.
According to a "reformed" phisher in Neamatpur, many unemployed youths in Asansol have been trained by the Jamtara gangs to start their own "ventures." They only require a small amount of capital, such as smartphones and phone numbers (SIM cards) purchased from suppliers. With several cell phone towers in the area, connectivity is not an issue.
Kamal Das, a resident of Ushagram in Asansol, says that abandoned yards and warehouses are abundant in the town, providing readily available office spaces without having to pay rent. This not only saves money but also ensures safety, making it easier for cybercriminals to carry out their activities without fear of getting caught.
The decline of industry in Asansol has led to a high rate of unemployment, but in recent years, certain areas have undergone a transformation. The streets are filled with markets, and every few hundred meters, a cell tower can be seen. It is not uncommon to see young men riding expensive motorcycles. Though not stated publicly, the sudden influx of money is believed to be the reason for this transformation.
“There has been no big industry in the last decade, and neither has there been any significant recruitment by the government. So how are people earning so much money so quickly?” questioned the proprietor of a newly-opened furniture store in Neamatpur.
In recent times, the police have been actively pursuing complaints against gangs operating in Asansol. They have made several arrests, including that of Dipu Das, who was the leader of a gang that had tricked a woman from Kolkata. The police nabbed him in Ushagram, Asansol. Additionally, they also arrested Neeraj Paswan, Ramu Ruidas, Shankar Mondal and Akash Nunia from Neamatpur earlier in the year. Over the past two years, the authorities have arrested a total of 20 individuals in cybercrime cases.
An official from the Asansol Police Commissionerate's cyber cell revealed that they are taking an innovative approach to create awareness about cybercrime. They are using wall graffiti that features animations, which encourage people not to share their bank details, OTPs, or click on suspicious links.
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