An Indian gang dressed up as officers and ran a fake police station out of a guesthouse for eight months, extorting money from hundreds of people right under the nose of real officers.
The fake outfit was just 500 metres away from a real police station and involved a wide-ranging scam that saw six people demanding money from locals who wanted to file complaints, reports of crimes and applications for government assistance.
Among the ringleaders was Anita Devi Murmu, 25, who was caught wearing a black cap and police uniform with a pistol in a brown holster worn on a belt.
She reportedly admitted to posing as head of the station, which was on the main road in the centre of Banka, a town in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.
Ms Murmu would talk to locals and promise solutions to their problems in return for bribes ranging from £1 to £500, according to media reports.
The station was manned by another person, Aakash Kumar Manjhi, 27, who wore fake badges on his shoulders and pretended to be an aloof deputy superintendent.
But they were caught red-handed after they tried to shake down business owners in a local mall on Wednesday evening.
Ms Murmu and Ms Manjhi said they were conducting a site inspection of the under-construction government-funded shopping complex.
“They talked to a few applicants and told them to visit the police station on Thursday for allotment of shops,” said Mr Shambhu Yadav, who heads up Banka’s real police station.
As the duo walked back from the site, Mr Yadav saw Ms Murmu in uniform and became suspicious when he noticed that her gun was a locally made Katta pistol instead of an official standard-issue revolver.
When he asked her where she was posted, she fumbled and became nervous, he explained.
‘First time we’ve heard of fake police station in India’
“We took them to the real police station and during interrogation, they revealed they are operating a police station nearby,” Mr Yadav said.
When they raided the fake station, police recovered four uniforms, 40 electoral identity cards used for applying to various rural development schemes, bank cheque books and five mobile phones.
They also found 500 unsent application forms for the government’s special housing scheme, which provides affordable shelter for poor people.
“For a routine police complaint, they would charge from Rs 100 to 500 but for allotment of houses and police jobs, the bribe would be in several thousand rupees,” officials said.
The forms and complaints were never sent on.
“We have heard cases of fake cops or investigating officers in the country. This is the first time we have heard of a fake police station,” said one local policeman.
Ms Murmu, Ms Manjhi were arrested along with three others, Ramesh Kumar, Wakil Kumar and Julie Kumari Manjhi.
The man believed to be the kingpin of the gang, Bola Yadav – no relation to Shambhu Yadav – is still at large.
Police fraud incidents common in India
Preliminary investigations revealed that he had also reportedly set up an “escort police team” in Bihar’s capital city of Patna to offer up jobs for the police and other departments in return for money.
He also allegedly extorted money from government officials facing corruption cases in exchange for favourable inquiry reports.
Ms Murmu and Ms Julie Manjhi have denied any wrongdoing. They claimed that they were victims of a scam and thought they were given real police jobs.
The other three arrested people and Bola Yadav have not commented on the allegations.
Although not normally at this level of sophistication, incidents of fraudsters masquerading as police officials or soldiers are common in India, where there is widespread respect for anyone in uniform.
In June, the son of a retired policeman, P Madan Kumar, reportedly had a police jeep fitted with sirens and masqueraded as an officer to fleece nearly two million rupees off unsuspecting locals in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
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