07/08/2019 7:04 PM IST | Updated 07/08/2019 7:26 PM IST

The Erstwhile Maharani Of Patiala Got An Anonymous Phone Call. Then She Lost Rs 23 Lakh

What happened to Congress MP Preneet Kaur really exposes the grim state of Digital India.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

CHANDIGARH — The man introduced himself as a manager at State Bank of India and asked her for her account number, ATM PIN, CVC number and the OTP that she got. This was necessary for her salary to be deposited in her account, he told her.

Minutes after Preneet Kaur shared the information, she received an SMS that Rs 23 lakh had been debited from her account.

Just another routine case of financial fraud in India? Not really. The victim, Kaur, is not only the Congress MP from Patiala, she is also the wife of Punjab CM Amarinder Singh and member of an erstwhile royal family.

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The sensitivity of the case is obvious from the fact that A.S. Rai, IG, Patiala Range and Mandeep Singh Sidhu, SSP Patiala refused to speak on the issue. Naunihal Singh, IG, Cyber Crime, claimed ignorance of the matter.

Sources told HuffPost India that within minutes of the incident, a six-member police team was dispatched to Jamtara area of Ranchi in Jharkhand. They later arrested 30-year-old Ataullah Ansari, a resident of Narainpur village in Jharkhand. The police brought him on remand to Punjab and has claimed to have recovered the entire amount from him.

Jamtara has the unfortunate reputation of being the hub of cybercrime in the country—a 2015 report in The Indian Express said that thousands of calls that lead to online transaction frauds are made from the district.

How did this happen?

Mumbai-based cyber crime investigator Ritesh Bhatia told HuffPost India that the modus operandi suggests that Ansari was not aware of her identity.

“However, it seems that he was in possession of highly sensitive information pertaining to her name, bank account and the mobile phone linked to it. All he needed was her debit card details along with its pin and OTP which, like many others, she may have provided in ignorance,” said Bhatia, adding that the incident also points to the flaws of forcing people to enter the digital era without adequate awareness about the pitfalls.

“For years, youths from places like Jamtara have been crushing claims of the robust secure payment gateways of Indian banks. It is time for banks to think ‘what next’ to prevent further online frauds,” said Bhatia.

While the Punjab police remains tightlipped about the case, Jamtara SP Anshuman Kumar confirmed Ansari’s arrest by the Punjab police and said that he was a habitual offender and had been arrested earlier as well. However, he said he didn’t have any particulars about the case or the victim.

“Fraudsters like him either take pin and OTP details from you on phone or else clone your debit or credit cards through special softwares and cameras attached to ATM machines. Later, they take out the money and get it deposited in another account. It is mostly difficult to trace them, as they create a chain of accounts,” said Kumar.