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Asansol becomes new hotspot for hackers

If you receive an SMS warning that your house’s electricity supply will be disconnected in a few hours, or a job offer that sounds too good to be true, chances are it originated in Asansol, an industrial town in Bengal, not far from the state’s border with Jharkhand.

With law enforcement agencies swooping down on Jamtara, a poor Jharkhand district that has become notorious for cybercrime across India, the gangs based there have shifted base to pockets of Asansol, less than 40km away. And while earlier they deceived people by telling them their debit card had been blocked or bank account deactivated, now they have new tricks.

“They prey on people’s fears, greed and insecurities,” said Mohammad Ghazi (name changed), a former cybercriminal in Asansol’s Neamatpur. He claimed he had reformed after some of his acquaintances were arrested. “People get scared and fall into the trap when we send SMSs about disconnection of power in this scorching heat. Many swallow the bait of work-from-home offers that promise to pay handsomely. They click on the link, which gives us access to their details through an app.”

Town a safe refuge
But the police heat on Jamtara is not the only reason for shifting base to Asansol. Many cybercriminals have relatives in Asansol, so it’s easy to find refuge and resume “business” here.

“The situation is such that every cell phone tower in Jamtara is being monitored by cybercrime officers, and as soon as a call is made the cops swoop in. It is becoming very risky to do our business from Jamtara,” said Ramu Paswan, who now stays in a slum on Lithuria Road. He had told ToI a few months ago that he was making calls from Asansol with the help of local youths.

Many unemployed youths inAsansol have also been trained by the Jamtara gangs to start “ventures” of their own. “The capital required is not much. We have smartphones and we buy some phone numbers (SIM cards) from suppliers. There are several cell phone towers, so connectivity is not an issue,” said another “reformed” phisher in Neamatpur.

Office space is also readily available in pockets of Asansol. “Thereare abandoned yards and warehouses all over the town. We use them as our office space without paying any rent. It also provides safety,” said Kamal Das, a resident of Ushagram.
Easy money on display

Asansol’s industrial decline had left it with a problem of unemployment, but some of its neighbourhoods have transformed in the past 2-3 years. There’s a cell tower every few hundred metres and the markets are booming. Young men riding expensive bikes is a normal sight here. While nobody says it on record, people attribute the transformation to the sudden influx of money.

“No big industry has come up in the last 10 years. There has also been no mass recruitment by the government. So, how are people getting so much money so quickly?” said the owner of a new furniture shop in Neamatpur.

Police turn up heat
Meanwhile, police have been cracking down on gangs on the basis of complaints received from other towns and cities. Last year, they arrested Dipu Das – leader of a gang that had duped a Kolkata woman – from Ushagram in Asansol. Neeraj Paswan, Ramu Ruidas, Shankar Mondal and Akash Nunia from Neamatpur were also arrested earlier in the year. Altogether, 20 people have been arrested in cybercrime cases in the last two years.

Police are also using wall graffiti to create awareness against cybercrime. “We have made animations cautioning people not to share their bank details and OTPs, or to click on suspicious links,” said an official of Asansol Police Commissionerate’s cyber cell. ToI

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