Kozhikode: Though the Kerala government could ban online lottery sales in its jurisdiction and persist with the traditional paper lotteries, wily racketeers are raking money by gaming the popular state lottery system. It has come to light that crooks are making use of WhatsApp to mint money by indulging in lottery fraud. Meanwhile, the law enforcers are at their wit's end as to how to tame the mafia who have been found running an ingenious parallel lottery system based on the government-run lottery.
Several rackets engaged in lottery fraud are thriving in Kozhikode city but the police are in the dark. Gangs employ several methods to carry out malpractices related to Kerala State Lotteries. Most of these fraudsters take copies of prize-winning lottery tickets and make alterations to cheat agents. Gangs engaged in gambling with pieces of paper on which some numbers are written are also active at many spots. A hi-tech version of cheating is organised through WhatsApp groups. Among them, the police could so far bust only some gangs which operate paper lottery. The fake ticket racketeers and hi-tech scamsters are still roaming free.
Bits of paper and WhatsApp group
It was by chance the racket came to light. On May 27, the police picked up a youth who was moving suspiciously near a lottery sales outlet at Model Bazaar Junction on the Cheruvannur-Meenchantha road. They found hundreds of bits of paper on which four-digit numbers were written. On questioning the youth, who belonged to Kolathara in Nallalam, the police realised the gravity of the situation. The youth was part of a wide network of racketeers who operated from lottery shops.
Their modus operandi is as follows: A person hands over a piece of paper on which a four-digit number is written along with Rs 10. Those whose figures match with the fifth prize-winning four-digit number of Kerala lottery draw held every day would get back Rs 1,000. These amounts would differ from gang to gang but the method is the same.
In short, the draw is organised by the government but the money for the tickets is collected by the fraudsters, who also distribute the prizes. As the draw is conducted with the government on a computer there are no complaints about the results. However, lakhs of rupees that should have gone to the government reaches the gangs.
After the police cracked down on paper lotteries, the malpractice takes place over WhatsApp. A person wishing to take part in the lottery has to send a four-digit number of his choice to the mobile number of the operators along with the number of tickets needed. There are people who purchase even a hundred tickets. The price of the tickets is transferred by mobile banking. Even though the police have received information about gangs involved in this fraud, no action has been launched owing to a lack of specific evidence.
Govt stand suspicious
The result of the Nirmal lottery announced on June 7 was later changed by the government at night. The correction was over the fifth prize. It was the four-digit number carrying prize money of Rs 5,000. The Kerala lottery draw is held on a computer in the presence of people’s representatives and officials. Some TV channels telecast the event live.
It is pointed out that a prize-winning number chosen under such stringent conditions was modified to help the lottery mafia. A departmental inquiry is on into the incident related to changing the result.
The predicament of poor agents
An agent selling lottery at New Bus Stand was cheated earlier this year by the fake lottery racketeers. He had approached the District Lottery Office with four prize-winning tickets in January. The tickets were supposed to have won the fifth prize of Win Win lottery. Tickets which have four matching digits win a cash prize of Rs 5,000. As per rules, the agent can distribute prizes up to an amount of Rs 5,000 after accepting the ticket. Later, he can present the ticket at the Lottery Office and claim the prize money.
However, the agent at New Bus Stand was shocked to learn that all the four tickets he took to the Lottery Office were fake. They were, in reality, colour photostat copies of prize-winning tickets. The agent lost Rs 20,000 in the incident. Making matters worse, he is now an accused in the case of fake lottery registered by the Nadakkavu police.
Though the police launched the probe five months ago, the real culprits are still untraced. As the complaint was filed by the District Lottery Office, the agent was booked as it was he who had presented the fake tickets. Till the persons who forged the lottery tickets are arrested, the innocent agent will continue to be the only accused in the case.
Now hundreds of fake lottery incidents are being reported in the city every month. In most of such incidents, the lottery seller who presents the ticket is booked but the police investigation crawls.
The fraud takes place misusing the rule that agents can distribute prizes up to Rs 5,000. As the winners purchase more tickets using a part of the prize money, the sellers would be happy to distribute the prizes. However, it is only when they present the tickets at the lottery office that they realise the fraud. Worse, they would be made accused of presenting fake tickets. The sad part is that most of such victims are differently abled people and elderly citizens.
With no help from the police, the Kerala State Lotteries Department is planning to organise awareness programmes for agents and sellers. The aim is to help them remain on guard against cheating. In other words, the Lotteries Department seems to have realised that the agents themselves should exercise caution as the police would take no action.