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Paying the price for phoney calls

Ignoring of traditional practices is a reason for the rise in white-collar crimes targeting government organisations, says K. Manikandan.

It was a simple operation, but resulted in a devastating scandal. So devastating that a public sector giant has been left poorer by Rs. 12.5 crores. Slackness on the part of the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited has sent some of the taxpayers' money down the drain.

All that the conmen did was to head to BSNL outlets in different parts of the city and apply for post-paid mobile connections with STD and ISD facilities. Once they got the SIM card, they made calls all over the world. In a little over a month, they used 145 cards and made calls to the tune of about Rs. 12.5 crores.

Officials said more than the loss of revenue, the scam could have wider ramifications. The police were now trying to find out how many people were involved in the scam. "The calls were made to foreign countries and the national security could be at risk," a detective said.

Investigators at the Central Crime Branch are surprised at the ease with the telecom major has been defrauded. BSNL is not the lone government organisation to be cheated in a simple operation. Last week, Indian Airlines asked the CCB to arrest some persons accused of producing fake boarding passes under a special scheme and cheating the airliner of about Rs. 9 lakhs.

Public sector undertakings and nationalised and foreign banks have joined the growing list of victims queuing up at the CCB office at Egmore. Investigators are still puzzled at the simple techniques used to cheat BSNL and Indian Airlines. In the case of Indian Airlines, three persons have been arrested so far on charges of forging boarding passes and earning mileage points under the Frequent Flyer Programme. The police said the accused then got international air tickets and sold them to passengers, causing a loss to the domestic carrier.

Some days ago, officials of a foreign bank complained to the CCB that six persons had cheated it of Rs. 1.9 crores. The bank had sanctioned a housing loan to the group against land documents. The authenticity of the documents was verified only after the money was released. A police officer remarked: "The problem begins here. Unless documents are verified and found to be true, loans should not be sanctioned."

In the BSNL case, the applicants had submitted self-attested application forms. "The addresses were fake and there was no thorough verification before the post-paid connections were allotted," a CCB investigator said.

The applicants reportedly forged documents by pasting their photographs on passports of other people and used them as proof of their address. The scam could have been detected had the BSNL monitored the sudden increase at the telephone exchange, the investigator said. In a hurry to expand its subscriber base, the government company had given post-paid connections without proper checks.

As the culprits had roaming facility on their mobile phones, they made the calls from different parts of the country, making it virtually impossible to trace them.

Department sources admitted that applicants had to produce original documents for verification at the time of getting post-paid connections. An officer, who did not want to be named, said the scam could not have occurred without the connivance of certain members of the staff. He said it was the first time that a scam of this magnitude rocked BSNL's Chennai Telephones.

Senior police officers said they were puzzled at the amazingly simple methods used by the culprits. An officer was of the view that white-collar crimes targeting government organisations had been increasing in the recent past. "It is primarily due to the fact that traditional practices are given the go-by in the new competitive world of marketing and selling," he said.

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