India police arrest man allegedly behind $340,000 digital currency scam

Indian police have nabbed the alleged mastermind of a cryptocurrency exchange exit scheme, which has reportedly scammed hundreds of users over 25 million rupee ($340,000) before he fled to Dubai in 2018.

Police in New Delhi arrested Umesh Verma upon arrival from Dubai, local media outlet NDTV reports. Verma is being held by the Economic Offenses Wing of the Delhi police for three days, the commissioner OP Mishra confirmed in a statement.

Verma launched Pluto Exchange in November 2017 with his son Bharat Verma, the outlet reports. The exchange allegedly issued its own digital currency known as Coin Zarus to its users. It assured them that the token would only appreciate in value, making a killing for them. To further lure more investors, the company promised investors a 20-30% monthly guaranteed return on their investment.

As with any other Ponzi scheme, the early investors enjoyed the promised returns. The 60-year-old Verma used funds from late-stage investors to pay the existing investors, authorities said. This led the existing investors to invite their friends and to invest even more money themselves.

However, after a few months, the funds began to dry up. In response, Verma went under the radar, hiding from his investors. He reportedly kept on changing his residence every few months. After a few months of ducking the investors, he fled to Dubai where he allegedly launched an essential commodities business.

Over 40 investors went on to file charges against Verma in September 2019, as CoinGeek reported. They claimed to have invested over $272,000 in Pluto Exchange.

The exchange was one of the earliest in India. In late 2017, it claimed to have launched India’s first BTC trading app, enabling transactions using a mobile number. As Verma stated at the time, he intended to bring to an end the long Bitcoin addresses to facilitate adoption by the less tech-savvy in India.

Indian police have continued to crack down on digital currency scammers in recent months. In October, they arrested the operator of Morris Coin, a digital currency project that allegedly defrauded hundreds of thousands of dollars from its investors. Going by Nishad, the operator allegedly managed to lure investors with promises of guaranteed daily returns.

Follow CoinGeek’s Crypto Crime Cartel series, which delves into the stream of groups—from BitMEX to BinanceBitcoin.comBlockstreamShapeShiftCoinbaseRipple and Ethereum—who have co-opted the digital asset revolution and turned the industry into a minefield for naïve (and even experienced) players in the market.

New to Bitcoin? Check out CoinGeek’s Bitcoin for Beginners section, the ultimate resource guide to learn more about Bitcoin—as originally envisioned by Satoshi Nakamoto—and blockchain.

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