“I’m stunned and want to figure out the truth”: Paytm Founder on personal data theft and extortion case



“I’m stunned and want to figure out the truth”: Paytm Founder on personal data theft and extortion case

Recently, the business world was shook by the case of Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma becoming the victim of an extortion bid. On October 23, it was revealed that Sharma was being blackmailed since September 20 to pay up an amount of 30 Crore which later came down to 10 Crore, in exchange of personal information and data including e-mails to various government officials and his aides. His brother, Ajay Shekhar Sharma, too received similar calls. What came out as a bigger shock was the involvement of his own employees, including his trusted secretary Sonia Dhawan, in the blackmailing fiasco.

“Dhawan reportedly told Kumar, to transfer all of Sharma’s personal data and store it in a hard disc. Being his trusted confidante and secretary, Dhawan had access to all the information that was used to blackmail Sharma”

Sonia Dhawan along with her husband Rupak Jain and Devendra Kumar (manager in the administrative section of Paytm) are the prime accused in the case. Dhawan reportedly told Kumar, to transfer all of Sharma’s personal data and store it in a hard disc. Being his trusted confidante and secretary, Dhawan had access to all the information that was used to blackmail Sharma and was reportedly handling all his mails and ATM passwords. Kumar then transferred the personal data to a Kolkata based Rohit Chomal who made the extortion calls to Sharma.

Sharma reportedly paid Rs 67 to the account details given to him on October 10 and paid 2 Lakhs, 5 days later while simultaneously alerting the police. The Gautam Budhh Nagar Police and the Noida Cyber Security Cell along with Paytm was able to track down the Whatsapp calls being made by Chomal which were being rerouted from abroad. On being identified, Chomal confessed that Kumar, Dhawan and Jain had offered him a 20% cut in the profit. Following this, the trio were arrested and kept in 14 day custody. However, Chomal is still absconding. The police has recovered a hard disc and a pendrive suspected to have the stolen data and information. The SSP involved in the investigations commented, “We will extract the data from the recoveries we have made and get it analysed from our cyber team to know exactly what it is”.

“Dhawan has claimed innocence as a victim of an extortion call herself. Additionally, in a recent statement released by Sharma, he said, “I’m stunned and want to figure out the truth. I have always believed her (Sonia Dhawan). It is possible that she has been used as a conduit. Cops will unearth the truth.”

Many angles are being probed to ascertain the motive behind the crime being committed especially by Dhawan. She reportedly had joined Paytm in 2010 and currently held the office of VP, Communications of their ‘One97 Communications’. She was drawing a salary of 70 Lakhs and owned an equity of 10 Crore in Paytm. She also owned vested shares in One97 Communications, which were worth 1.79 Crore as per March 2017, filings with Registrar of Companies (reportedly sold off recently). But, her husband’s plight was in stark contrast with his real estate business spiraling downward. As per sources, the couple was seeking to buy a newer, bigger house for themselves with the money. During the blackmailing process Sonia was in constant touch with both the parties and was well aware of the extortion calls being made. What triggered a doubt in the mind of the complainant, Sharma, was her constant advice to pay up for the amount. However, recently, Dhawan has claimed innocence as a victim of an extortion call herself, stating that she too had received a threatening call to pay up a certain amount or get killed. Additionally, in a recent statement released by Sharma, he said, “I’m stunned and want to figure out the truth. I have always believed her (Sonia Dhawan). It is possible that she has been used as a conduit. Cops will unearth the truth”.

Although Paytm claimed that this was a case of personal data theft and that the data of its customer base is ‘safe and impenetrable to any security breach’

The Paytm fiasco has landed the Company once again in the public eye on the question of accountability of the public information stored by them. Although Paytm claimed that this was a case of personal data theft and that the data of its customer base is ‘safe and impenetrable to any security breach’, it raises the point of our callousness towards our personal data and information handling. With the single most tragic practice of having shared passwords and ATM Pins, a great deal of vital info was held as bait in the extortion bid. This comes almost a year after Ajay Sharma, brother of Paytm founder was seen claiming to extract and provide details about information of any customer if requested by PMO, in a widely circulated viral video. While, the data stolen is currently under the possession of the investigating authorities, what remains to be seen is, who’s the real culprit, behind the extortion bid, that shook the entire business world. And moreover this incidence stands as an indicator of the need to employ best practices and even more stringent measures while handling personal and official data especially by tech startups and entrepreneurs.

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