UP: Cheque cloning gang busted; bank official, telecom firm agent among 10 arrested

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Noida (UP), Jul 7 (PTI) In the 2002 hit Hollywood film "Catch Me If You Can", Leonardo DiCaprio plays the role of a conman in the late 1960s who makes millions of dollars by forging cheques.

Cut to now and a 10-member gang in Uttar Pradesh used the same modus operandi to swindle people of crores of rupees, only its techniques being a bit more sophisticated than those used in the film by Frank Abagnale Jr, the character played by DiCaprio.

The gang's members were arrested on Saturday by the Bulandshahr district police for scamming people across the country of crores of rupees by "cloning cheques", Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Shlok Kumar told PTI.

"Of those arrested, was a bank's generator operator who leaked data, a customer agent of a leading telecom company who transferred SIM cards (using fraudulent means) and a person whose accounts were used to deposit funds," Kumar said.

Explaining their modus operandi, he said they used to steal chequebooks ordered by customers before it reached them from banks. When a customer lodged a complaint, the bank cancelled the previous chequebook and issued a new one, Kumar said.

The gang's members used to get the details of the new chequebook from their accomplices before it was delivered to a customer, the SSP said.

After removing the details from the cheques of the cancelled chequebook using a chemical, the gang's members printed the details of the one delivered and received by the customer. They then put a forged signature of the customer on the cheques and withdrew money, the official said.

In the movie, Abagnale, to make a counterfeit, used glue to stick symbols and stencils to get the lettering correct on a paper that had the dimensions similar to that of a genuine cheque.

SSP Kumar said an investigation was launched after a local lodged a complaint that Rs 15 lakh had been withdrawn from his account through a cheque not issued by him.

"The complainant said he did not receive any message from the bank. The man got to know that Rs 15 lakh had been withdrawn when he updated his passbook," the official said.

It was a well organised gang and its members worked in teams, each having a name like in a company or an office, the SSP said.

To swindle people, its members first acquired the know your customer details of a person from banks and then "for getting the SIM cards, they would produce forged documents of the person on whose name a number is allotted and show him or her as dead", Kumar said.

"After that, this number would be purchased in the name of a new person so that any call or message from the bank would be attended by the accused and while posing as the bank account holder, verify fund transfers illegally started by them," he added.

Giving details of the units the gang was divided into, Kumar said a "layering group" was involved in transferring the money received fraudulently into different bank accounts so that it became difficult for law enforcement agencies to trace and recover it.

"Then there was the 'asset creation group'. It was tasked with cleverly investing the ill-gotten money into making assets like purchasing land or property or other asset somewhere," he added.

Nitin Kashyap, Prem Shankar Vishwakarma, Awadhesh Kumar, Shah Alam, Uruj Alam, Bhupendra Kumar, Kalicharan, Alok Kumar, Brijesh Kumar and Chatar Singh have been arrested, police said.

Forty-two mobile-phones, 33 SIM cards, 12 chequebooks of various banks, 20 passbooks, 14 loose cheques have been seized from them, according to police.

The police have also impounded a car and recovered a "Delhi Police cap" which was kept on its dashboard. This gave an impression that they were police personnel and helped them skip security checks, they said.

"They used different phones to keep their identification concealed and evade police surveillance. They also carried walkie-talkies sets to communicate with each other," Kumar said.

He said the gang was active in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh, among other places in the country.

This has been corroborated by the chequebooks and material seized, the SSP said.

Two of the 10 accused arrested are from Muzaffarnagar, where the police had declared a Rs 15,000 reward on their arrest after a similar fraud was committed by them in 2021, he said.

The accused have been sent into judicial custody by a local court, he added. PTI KIS ANB ANB