Mumbai Crime: Gang tries to extort Bandra businessman via social media

Updated: Oct 12, 2019, 08:06 IST | Diwakar Sharma

Businessman Kanaram Patel, who runs an imitation jewellery shop, Riddhi Art Jewellery, at Hill Road in Bandra West has accused three men of extortion

CCTV footage of an unidentified man who came to Patel's office to get him to speak to Sayyed. Pic/Bipin Kokate
CCTV footage of an unidentified man who came to Patel's office to get him to speak to Sayyed. Pic/Bipin Kokate

The business of extortion has reared its head once again in the city but with a technological update. Culprits are now using social media to execute coordinated smear campaigns against soft targets. A 38-year-old businessman is the latest victim of the trend where the accused first troll their target on social media to instill fear then demand money to settle the matter.

Businessman Kanaram Patel, who runs an imitation jewellery shop, Riddhi Art Jewellery, at Hill Road in Bandra West has accused three men, Arbaaz Sayyed, Lokesh Rane, and Pradeep Yadav, of extortion. Senior Inspector at Bandra police station Vijaylaxmi Hiremath said the trio has secured anticipatory bail. "Sayyed photographed my shop and on September 21, posted a picture on Twitter alleging that I encroached on the footpath in front of my shop and BMC officials are not taking action against me," Patel told mid-day.

Kanaram Patel at his shop, Riddhi Art Jewellery
Kanaram Patel at his shop, Riddhi Art Jewellery

"A few days later, I started getting calls from Rane who told me that the photograph of my shop is going viral on social media and that the BMC will demolish it. And that he can prevent it only if I pay him R1 lakh," he said. Yadav, too, made similar phone calls but an intimidated Patel ignored both. The harassment continued and eventually, they turned up at his shop. "Sayyed sent an unknown person to my shop, who said 'bhai baat karega, bhai phone pe hai baat karo'. I refused as I had guests visiting my office," Patel said.

This irked the gang and they barged into Patel's office above the shop and started abusing him verbally. "One of them caught me by my collar, dragged me outside and threatened me with dire consequences unless I pay up. Hearing the commotion, shop owners from the neighbours gathered to help me but the trio managed to escape," said Patel, who then approached the Bandra police on September 29. None of them has been arrested so far.

Extortionists Arbaaz Sayyed, Pradeep Yadav, Lokesh Rane
Extortionists Arbaaz Sayyed, Pradeep Yadav, Lokesh Rane

Patel told mid-day that it is not the first time that the extortionists demanded money from him. "Around three months ago, I succumbed to similar tactics and coughed up R70,000 cash. But I realised that I am being targeted for no reason as my documents are in order and I am a law-abiding citizen," Patel said. He added that the gang's main target is businessmen from Bandra and Khar. "They have also been demanding huge amounts from builders and restaurant owners in the Western suburbs," Patel said.

An officer privy to the investigation told mid-day that they have collected enough evidence, including victims' chats with extortionists, call recordings, CCTV footage, etc, and are thoroughly investigating the case. The crime branch has also been conducting a parallel investigation into
the matter.

Cyber expert's take
Cyber expert Ritesh Bhatia said, "This is the first time I am hearing about criminals using cyberspace for extortion but I am not surprised. Time and again, we have witnessed criminals exploiting the Internet for two reasons — anonymity and traceability."

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