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Haryana Police bust gang stealing money from bank accounts using Aadhaar Enabled Payment System

Aadhaar, surveillance
Credit: Trisha Jalan

Haryana Police on Monday said that it has busted a gang whose members allegedly siphoned off money from people’s account using the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS) by cloning the fingerprints in Palwal district.

Terming it as a major breakthrough, a Haryana Police spokesperson said that five members of the gang, including a woman, who were involved in online fraud worth crores of rupees were arrested by conducting raids at different locations in Delhi and Palwal.

What did the police recover?

  • 1 biometric machine
  • 220 fingerprint clones
  • 68 blank Aadhaar cards
  • 5 Aadhaar cards
  • 21 PAN cards
  • 1 fingerprint rubber stamp machine
  • 11 debit cards of different banks
  • 270 SIM cards
  • 1 laptop
  • 5 bottles rubber gel photo polymer
  • 2078 copies of registries (out of which 10 copies used in online fraud)
  • 64 passport size photographs
  • Printer
  • 1 pen drive
  • 1 lamination machine

In the release, the spokesperson said that a special team was formed after complaints were reported in the district about money being withdrawn without actual account owners making any transactions. Police have registered 43 cases of online fraud between May 24 and June 2, 2021.

Modus operandi, according to the police

The Haryana Police alleged that the fraudsters made attempts to get the documents used for fraud from the staff of registry offices. When they did not succeed in doing so, the scammers contacted a private person who purportedly did the binding of registry documents in Palwal tehsil and obtained copies of documents of registry done at a high cost.

The gang then allegedly cloned the fingerprints of sellers and purchasers and carried out illegal transactions through biometric devices using various wallets.

  • Xpresso RoiNet Wallet
  • Spice Money Wallet
  • Payworld Wallet
  • Payson Wallet
  • Fingpay Wallet
  • Paymonk Wallet

They used to withdraw amounts up to Rs 10,000 using fingerprint clones and committed online fraud worth crores of rupees, the police said.

Those arrested were identified as Ghaziabad-resident Rohit (33), Bihar-based Chitranjan (28), Amir Hussain (27) and Kiran (28) and Tularam (40) of village Khatela in Palwal. Haryana Police said that according to their primary probe and disclosure statement the gang is allegedly involved in all the 43 cases registered.

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“We are trying to gather more information about the involvement of others and how many innocent people were cheated by the gang members through online fraud”, said Superintendent of Police, Palwal, Deepak Gahlawat in the release by the Haryana Government.

What is AEPS?

The AEPS is a financial inclusion product developed by the NPCI which allows cash withdrawal, deposit and funds transfer at POS (Micro ATM) through a business correspondent of any bank using the Aadhaar authentication.

The only inputs required for a customer to do a transaction under the AEPS mode are IIN (identification of the customer’s bank), Aadhaar number and fingerprint.

Security of Aadhaar ecosystem in question

From media reports and published research, the prevalence of fraudulent Aadhaar cards — created either by forgery or through falsification of documents — is much wider. In 2018, independent researchers Anmol Somanchi and Vipul Paikra had compiled a database of over 73 incidents of misuse of Aadhaar cards reported in English media that year. Of these, 52 were cases involved fake or forged Aadhaar numbers. The fraudulent Aadhaars were being used to siphon off ration grains, carry out land transfers, procure passports, and get loans, among other things.

Somanchi told IndiaSpend that initially they had included Hindi reports as well, and had found more such incidents. In total, the database consists of 164 incidents reported since 2011, of which 52 involve forgery.

Last year, the Indian government said that 40,955 fraudulent Aadhaar numbers were discovered and cancelled as of August 31, 2020. The ministry’s admission to having identified more than 40,000 fraudulent numbers raises questions about the security of the Aadhaar ecosystem.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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