Fantasy sports scams: From dream winnings to nightmare losses

By: rahul adhikari&
September 22 2023

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Fantasy sports scams: From dream winnings to nightmare losses

India's fantasy sports industry is gearing up for a surge in new users and revenue with the one-day International Cricket World Cup scheduled for this October. Held once every four years, the ICC cricket world cup is expected to further bolster an already established industry in India that is rapidly becoming one of the world's most dynamic markets – with over 300 fantasy sports platforms and 180 million users.

In a country where traditional betting and gambling are largely prohibited, the prospect of winning real money led to this industry making revenue of Rs. 2,800 crore during the recent season of the Indian Premier League. 

While Indian platforms like Dream11 and Vision11 are considered legitimate for fair play, a parallel industry of scammers is exploiting unsuspecting fantasy sports enthusiasts.

A Logically Facts investigation found numerous Telegram channels, Facebook groups/pages, and WhatsApp accounts misleading and swindling users by promising to provide the "best-performing teams" in exchange for money. Our team engaged with admins running some of these channels and availed their services to see how enthusiasts are lured to pay more under the guise of assured wins. These pages claim and guarantee that their teams will ensure participants "win big" by investing a minimum amount. Offering the "best team" to those who sign up, the owners of such pages ask customers to use their teams to join contests on fantasy platforms.

Screenshot 2023-09-22 at 3.11.14 PM

Screenshots of Facebook posts and advertisements claiming to provide fantasy teams that will make big winnings. (Source: Facebook/Modified by Logically Facts) 

This reporter joined a few Telegram channels to understand how the scam works and how users are lured into it. We noticed that the scammers attract new customers by sharing the winning team after matches are finished. These pages also claim that they can provide fantasy cricket combinations that will rank the highest on popular platforms.

Some of the users who were duped by these scammers told us that they were tricked into giving more money after their first loss, following which they were blocked from further communication.

Understanding fantasy sports

Fantasy sports is an online gaming genre centered on real-world sports like football, basketball, and cricket. Players create virtual teams consisting of professional athletes from specific sports events. These virtual teams compete based on the real-life performance of chosen athletes. The team with the highest points wins.

Fantasy sports platforms are digital applications and websites where users build and manage fantasy teams. These platforms host various contests, offering prizes based on participation and entry fees. Contests range from small leagues with two to six participants to Mega Grand Leagues with thousands. 

In India, the entry fee charged by some of these platforms for participating in a fantasy league varies from 10 to 50,000 rupees. Winning depends on participation and fees, with smaller leagues being easier to win but offering smaller prizes while the pot in bigger leagues such as the Mega Grand League can go up to two crores. Users create a “Dream Team,” in order to rank at the top in such grand leagues.

India’s most popular sport, cricket, contributes to 80 percent to the total market value of fantasy sports in India, ABP News reported in July 2022. The industry is boosted by advertisements featuring prominent cricketers and famous actors. 

The allure of fantasy gaming 

Fantasy sports platforms advertise winning big with a small investment. But people have lost money believing they will win millions by spending a small amount. 

Several new users, who participate in Mega Grand League contests – allows users to enter up to 20 teams per contest–  end up losing money, as predicting a strong team is difficult, given the combination of factors that determine a sporting contest.

One user wins the Mega Grand League daily, bagging a significant amount of money – which in principle requires only an investment between 49 to 100 rupees. From 60 lakh participants the probability of winning 0.00000167 percent. According to fantasy sports influencers and victims who spoke to us, after losing money playing against such odds on fantasy platforms, participants often become desperate and seek ways to recover their losses. 

Shehzad Siddiqui, a fantasy influencer who operates a Telegram channel called H2H Champions with over 5,000 subscribers, told Logically Facts, “People fall for it because of desperation and greed. A lot of my subscribers ask me if I give a paid team or not.”

Several fantasy influencers have published videos explaining that paid teams are fraudulent. In his YouTube video posted on March 30, Naveen Agarwal said, “Some of these scammers show up during the IPL and the World Cup, while others remain active throughout the year to deceive people.” Agarwal has 5.83 lakh subscribers on YouTube and 1.8 lakh subscribers on Telegram.

The ecosystem of scammers

A non-blue tick Telegram channel shows screenshots of grand league contest winners claiming that their customers achieved top ranks by purchasing fantasy cricket teams from this channel. The promotional messages read, “1st rank GL 40 lakh win. Don’t waste your time and money another places.  If you don't win, we'll refund double your money (sic).”  

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Screenshots of a fantasy cricket advertisement (Source: Telegram/Modified by Logically Facts)

A screenshot of a promotional message shared on the Telegram channel claims that they will provide a fantasy cricket team that will rank between 1-9 and guarantee a 100 percent success rate.

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Screenshot of a fantasy cricket advertisement (Source: Telegram/Modified by Logically Facts)

Screenshots of several Facebook groups providing fantasy cricket teams at certain rates also appear on the Facebook feed as sponsored content. The advertisements claim to provide a “100 percent winning team” which will secure a high rank in grand league contests. The advertisements are run by unverified Facebook pages named after platforms like Dream 11. 

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Screenshots of fantasy cricket advertisements. (Source: Facebook/Modified by Logically Facts)

“The mindset is since it is paid then the team must be good which is wrong,” Siddiqui told Logically Facts.

"Predicting the fantasy team is not possible. If anyone claims otherwise, that person is lying. I am aware that many people run such frauds to take advantage of others and people still fall for it," a fantasy sports influencer Fantasy Factor said.

Luring users – how people fell for the scam

Logically Facts spoke to people who have previously been duped by availing services of such scammers. Animesh Sarkar, a 26-year-old fantasy sports player from Siliguri, told us he paid one such scammer 3,000 rupees two years ago. 

“Whenever I played it safe, risky players seemed to perform, and when I took a chance with a risky team, the safe players performed instead. That's when I decided to join multiple fantasy cricket Telegram channels,” Sarkar told Logically Facts. “They used to send screenshots of their customers' teams achieving the top rank in mega grand leagues. I got convinced and paid 3,000 rupees hoping to secure a win so I could recover my losses in one go. It didn't work. When I confronted them, they asked for another 3,000 for another week, claiming that their team was guaranteed to win. Since that day, I realized that these were all scams.”

A fantasy sports influencer who runs YouTube and Telegram channels under the name TEAMS4WIN says in a video, dated March 27, that these scammers employ editing techniques to deceive people. He mentions that they capture screenshots of winning teams, erase the original owner's name, and superimpose their own logo onto them. 

Abu Bakkar Siddiqui, another victim of such scams, shared a similar experience. He had been playing Dream11 since 2015 and had invested over at least Rs. 10,000 in pursuit of a grand league win. “Despite being aware of the potential deception, my gambling mindset wanted to try my luck,” he said. 

Siddiqui came across a Telegram channel and interacted with its owner, who offered “prime membership” for exclusive teams at different price points. He chose a monthly package for Rs. 1,999 and received teams for around 10-15 cricket matches but didn't achieve any wins. He admitted, “Success in fantasy leagues often depends on unpredictable selections and that these scams provide false hope with unrealistic fantasy team combinations that never deliver victory.”

First-hand experience

To understand the ecosystem of the alternate fantasy gaming industry, this reporter contacted the admins of ten such accounts he found on Telegram channels and Facebook. They all promised to provide the “best-performing fantasy teams'' with some guaranteed refunds for poor results. A few even falsely claimed to work for Dream11 and offered grand league-winning teams. 

Many of the scammers we messaged communicated over the phone and text messages. Each had a different package and tried to convince us to subscribe to their paid fantasy monthly or weekly packages. One such individual forwarded a poster where it's stated that if we don't win, we'll receive Rs. 5,000 rupees from the Dream 11 office. He sent us a QR code for making the payment.

Dream11 never gives bonuses on losses. Sometimes, they offer bonuses on deposits. They provide Dream Coins, which are not the same as what the person claimed.

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Screenshots of the advertisements in which the frauds claimed to work for Dream 11 company. (Source: Facebook/Modified by Logically Facts)

We purchased a package from a WhatsApp number advertised on Facebook by a page named “Dream 11 Team Available” and made a payment of Rs. 900. After sending a screenshot for confirmation, the person provided me with four fantasy team combinations to invest in the Qualifier 1 round of the Lanka Premier League between two teams. We asked multiple times, "What if your team doesn’t perform?" The person reiterated their assurance that we would definitely win.

Screenshot 2023-09-22 at 3.23.00 PMScreengrabs of the conversations with the fantasy sports scammers. Rahul: Would you return the money if I lose, as you mentioned in the advertisement video? Scammer: Trust me, you'll win for sure. The teams will be sent after the toss. (Source: WhatsApp/Modified by Logically Facts)

Mega grand league contests offer numerous spots with a low entry fee starting at just Rs. 49, and we entered Dream 11’s mega grand league where 20,40,816 players compete. Our highest-performing team was more than 200 points behind the winning dream team incurring a total loss of Rs. 949 rupees. When we went to ask for our money, our messages stopped getting delivered to their WhatsApp number - implying this reporter may have been blocked. When we tried contacting them from a different number, our initial messages got delivered until they stopped shortly after, indicating we may have been blocked once again. 

Screenshot 2023-09-22 at 3.24.01 PMScreenshots of conversations with the admin from two numbers.
(Left screenshot) Rahul: Brother, I didn't win a single contest and suffered losses. Return my money. Hello? (Right screenshot) Rahul: I invested with your team, didn’t win any contest, and suffered losses instead - Why have you blocked my number?? You said 100%, return my money now - Hello - ?? - Hello. (Source: WhatsApp/Modified by Logically Facts)

At least ten such scammers called me after we texted them through their Facebook advertisement. Some scammers claimed that if the teams don't win, Dream 11 will award a bonus. Those unfamiliar with the scam view this as a profitable opportunity and, consequently, lose money.

We have contacted Dream 11 to ask them if they are aware of this scam. The story will be updated as and when they respond.

The scammer landscape

Logically Facts reviewed at least 46 groups on Facebook for fantasy sports, each with members ranging from thousands to lakhs. One of these groups boasts a total membership of 249,000. 

These groups over the past seven days revealed that all posts are promotions. Across all the groups, people are sharing screenshots of fantasy cricket teams, claiming that their teams will perform well. Each post includes a contact number or a link to a Telegram channel. A few posts claim that they will provide teams for free if fantasy players join their Telegram - a technique to gain subscribers.

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Screenshots of fantasy cricket Facebook groups and advertisements shared on these groups. (Source: Facebook/Modified by Logically Facts)

We reviewed 20 Telegram channels where scammers make promises of grand league teams in exchange for money. They regularly post such advertisements on these channels. The subscriber base of these channels ranges from 10,000 to 50,000.

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Screenshot of fantasy cricket team advertisements shared on several Telegram channels claiming a 100 percent winning guarantee. (Source: Telegram/Modified by Logically Facts) 

Legal measures and regulation

There is no specific law for fraud and scams in online gaming. Incidents of fraud would fall under cybercrime. On April 20, 2023, the central government's Press Information Bureau (PIB) published a press release stating that the government has introduced "strict guidelines to ensure the safety of Digital Nagriks and the accountability of the online gaming industry." 

According to the new IT Rules introduced this year to govern the sector, only online gaming platforms verified by self-regulatory bodies (SRBs) approved by the central government will be allowed to operate. The rules also prohibit intermediaries from hosting or displaying any advertisements or surrogate promotions of online games that are not permissible. This step aims to address the growing menace of online advertisements related to illegal betting and gambling operations targeting Indian users. 

There is no option for fantasy sports-related frauds on the Cyber Crime Portal under the Ministry of Home Affairs. However, people who have fallen victim can file complaints in the local cyber crime police stations.

With the Cricket World Cup approaching, fantasy sports enthusiasts will be thronging to gain leverage over their competitors - and our investigation reveals the assurances provided by these pages can make certain users hoping for a big win particularly vulnerable to such fraud. While fantasy platforms offer a fair environment, these scams are playing spoilsport. 

(Legal Note: The objective of the story is to make users aware of these fantasy game scams. These scams are neither connected to nor are they a responsibility of platforms like Dream 11. We have reached out to Dream 11 and the story will be updated if and when we receive a response.)

(Edited by Ilma Hasan)

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