Several alleged Indian scammers were arrested for getting Russians to bet on fake cricket matches they streamed live on YouTube using a convoluted system of Telegram chats and walkie-talkies to call out hits to players on the field. Okay... yeah… wait, what? Beyond the outlandish nature of the scheme, this is one of those cases where you hear of an elaborate scam and think, “haven’t you heard of crypto?”
Multiple reports citing police in the west Indian state of Gujarat stated that this YouTube-based cricket crime paid around two dozen farmers and other unemployed youth to pretend to be professional players, swapping jerseys in between matches. In a scam that lasted two weeks, each player was paid about 400 rupees, or about $5 per game. The Washington Post reported that police received a tip about the fake league last week and conducted a raid during one of these fake matches.
Bhavesh Rathod, a Gujarat state police officer, told reporters that those farmers who participated aren’t under arrest and are being treated as witnesses, according to the Post. That’s good, because while the players were getting paid peanuts to swing or bowl, the “masterminds” behind the scheme raked in 300,000 rupees, or a little less than $4,000 from Russian gamblers, according to The Guardian.
The Times of India reported four people have been arrested so far, based on information from local police. Indian cops called Shoeb Davda the con’s “chief organizer” who had previously worked in a Russian sports betting bar. Davda then paid a local farmer to let him perform his scam. Another man named by police, Asif Mohammed, masterminded the scheme and showed Russians the intricacies of cricket. Two of the other people arrested allegedly acted as umpires on the pitch.
Indian newspapers reported the cricket con was promoted thanks to a YouTube channel that went by the simple name of professional league IPL, the acronym for the Indian Premier League. Russians were lured into a Telegram channel during these fake live broadcasts where the scammers took bets. Indian police said the scammers would call umpires of the marks’ bets using walkie-talkies, alerting them to order a certain hit or out.
The fake teams’ batters and bowlers were clad in uniforms that imitated the appearance of actual IPL teams like the Chennai Super Kings and the Gujarat Titans. The fake IPL YouTube channel has since been taken down, but recorded video of those matches still linger. The field of view is narrow enough you can’t see any of the supposed crowds or stands. Gizmodo could not independently verify the video, but it matches video provided by police to other outlets.
What did it take to dupe these Russian sports gamblers? The fake IPL started its false tournament three weeks after the real IPL finished in May, according to police. They also used simple computer graphics to display scores and played crowd noise sound effects that police said were downloaded from the internet.
Reports said the scammers even had a speaker who could sound like real Indian cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle to offer a few play-by-plays. The real-life commentator was apparently tickled pink by the news. He even posted his reaction to his Twitter.
But the payouts the ringleaders received was apparently small change compared to what they spent to set up the fake cricket field. Because of the small amounts each of the scam leaders were paid, Rathod told WaPo reporters the scam could be “much bigger.”