When a 30-year-old hotel manager from Chembur, who had been looking to move abroad, saw an email from the "Hilton hotel in Canada" on January 15 offering him a job, he was elated.
He had been looking for a job in a foreign hotel through various portals. He was immediately sent an appointment letter and asked to contact "diplomat Mark Brown".
In turn, Brown asked him to pay visa fee, programme fee, employment authorisation and basic travelling allowance fee and got him to deposit Rs 17.22 lakh in various bank accounts.
After realising that he had been duped since he did not hear back from the hotel, the man filed a complaint with the police, Indian Express reports.
Eventually, it turned out that four alleged fraudsters from Pune, arrested by the cyber police on Monday, hatched the "Canada-based Hilton hotel" email and "diplomat Mark Brown" plan to dupe the complainant.
Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Milind Bharambe said, "Of the four accused, three hail from Nigeria and one from Sierra Leone. On checking their computers, we found data of 27,000 people. They were probable fraud targets. The details were of people from 48 countries, including France, Philippines and Saudi Arabia, which hints that the accused were involved in conning citizens of other countries as well."
He added that of the 27,000, the accused had established contacts with around 2,000 people.
DCP (Cyber) Rashmi Karandikar said that they had found 64 accounts in 12 nationalised banks located in various states, including Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, which had been used by the accused to deposit the proceeds of crime.
The police suspect these were mule accounts where people are paid a certain percentage by criminals to use their accounts to deposit money from fraudulent activities.
"We suspect that a major chunk of this money would have been proceeds of crime and have asked all the bank accounts to be frozen," he added.
The police have found that while two of the accused had student visas, one had an expired visa. The fourth accused's passport is yet to be found.
Bharambe said, "So many people fall prey to these scams every day. I would request people to not click on links sent from unknown numbers or email addresses. Also, no employer will directly offer an appointment letter and ask for money to be paid for the same."
Saharareporters, New York