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How Digital Wallets Have Unwittingly Created The Perfect System For Money Laundering

How Digital Wallets Have Unwittingly Created The Perfect System For Money Laundering

Let me start by telling you an open secret – babus like me don’t like the current government. Not because it makes demands on us (we actually like that), but because of its unpredictability. And unpredictability for people like me, with too much to hide over the years, is only one step away from death. An unexpected raid will ruin our lives – my wife and children will be out on the streets, and I will have nothing to show for the last 26 years of keeping my mouth shut. Unpredictability makes people like me very scared. For example, these days, astrology is all I read.

For the naive reader, I am referring to my Disproportionate Assets (DA) – wealth accumulated through the tradition of taking bribes directly, or taking your fair share of departmental bribes. And there is a lot of this wealth here in India, hidden away in some ‘benami’ flats in Dwarka, or as gold bangles in some lockers in Bahrampur. I honestly believe that ‘videshi’ black money was an important diversion created by some imaginative babu with influence in the last government; black money dwarves in comparison to our money.

Technology, over the years, has generally made things harder for us. For example, AADHAAR, a laughable proposal when it started, had to be fought tooth and nails to be slowed down. If it was made mandatory just in NCR region alone for confirming all old property registrations, a lot of people might have committed suicide. And when you have to hide the bundles in your briefcase in the middle of the night, there is no startup which offers an ‘uber’ service for buying ‘benami’ flats or opening lockers. That is, not until Semi Closed Wallets!

Let me start by telling you three rules of hiding your DA:

  1. It should not be cash (very bad if there is a raid).
  2. It should not be linked to you.
  3. And most importantly, it should be as liquid as cash.

10 years ago, some of us seriously looked at mobile phones to hide away our cash. Mobile phones add ‘scalability’ to the concept of ‘benami’. You can purchase thousands of SIMs at a time with records of people who stupidly hand over photocopies of their IDs to pre-paid SIM sellers. Nobody monitors these numbers, and nobody does any accounting on talktime. But talktime is rubbish. Money goes in, and only voice and SMS comes out. Getting ‘benami’ phones interested only terrorists and other criminal types.

But then came Paytm, Oxigen that are semi-close wallet: open an account at any time, no KYC hassles for upto INR 10000, and instant transfers to any bank account. And the sweet toffee at the end is that you can buy anything online with it, often at a large discount! Let me illustrate how we use semi-closed wallets with an example:

I recently took INR 10 lakhs for signing on a project completion certificate of a project which is never going to be completed. The money was taken from me and hidden by an agent in 10 minutes flat for a fee of INR 1 Lakh (10% is not bad commission). All I received in return was 100 SIM cards along with an excel sheet containing details for each. The beauty is that not only is it easy to hide SIM cards, they can be easily destroyed and recovered with a simple ‘lost’ FIR anywhere in India. This is how my agent made the magic happen in 10 minutes:
1. Purchased 100 fully activated SIM cards from a dealer who has keeps a stock of lakhs of SIM cards.
2. Messaged his network of operators to open Paytm wallets online from different locations around the country for these 100 SIMs. This took the most time.
3. Transferred INR 9000 into these freshly opened accounts from bank accounts and other semi-closed wallets.
My agent uses other new startups and technology extensively: all traces of his communications are deleted automatically, and, of course, he pays his network agents using semi-closed wallets. Bank account transfers to semi-closed wallet will become a small scale industry in the coming days. What will RBI ever do with a housewives in Tinsukia, Assam, who are making 50 transfers a day thinking they are doing legitimate online business (‘ghar baith kar paisa kamayen’ schemes).

And this is how I use the money- spend INR 9000 at a time, buying electronics, groceries, and now even train tickets. And then I destroy the used SIM. And with it all record for that money is lost for eternity. We especially like buying latest electronics. The cardboard boxes being thrown out of my house were becoming embarrassing, so now I get deliveries done to my uncle’s houses.

Some people I know have started accepting payments in SIM cards topped up with Paytm cash because it is completely benami.

When any of my thousands of accounts are set to expire, my agent gives me a reminder. I can either make a small purchase to keep it active, or just transfer balance to my agent, who will get me a new SIM for a fee. This is the best system for our type of money so far. And it is not going anywhere anytime soon, because it is too big now. Otherwise too many people will lose out on digital commerce and how will RBI explain that.

[Disclaimer: This article was shared as an anonymous guest post to Inc42.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Inc42 or any of it’s team members.] 

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