Conmen on the web

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Cheats have always thrived in the sub-continent however, with the expansion of telephony and other communication technologies, many more seem to have joined the trade. A Kashmir Life report.

For Rais Ahmad, it was a problematic Sunday last summer. A series of phone calls which started around noon gave him a sleepless night.

“I got a call from somewhere outside. He said he is Pappu Bhai who drives a JCB (earth mover),” said Rais. His tale was interesting. He said he was tasked to dismantle an old house in a Rajasthan village. It was while dismantling the house that he claimed he felt there was something metallic hitting the machine. “I discovered three golden bricks. I concealed these in the machine without informing the owner,” Pappu Bhai told Rais.

He claimed he never told anybody till his wife fell ill and he had nothing in his pocket. “I broke a bit of the brick and went to sell it in the market and the jeweller informed the police who detained me,” said Pappu.

“Eventually the police took away all the three bricks and now they want to release one of the three bricks for which they are seeking some money.” It was hunt for this money that Pappu Bhai launched a “fund raiser” using his cell phone. He was offering a share of the brick to Rais for the contributions he makes. “I knew it was a fraud. Initially I laughed at it and finally when this Pappu Ji started making calls repeatedly I told him that I will be reporting it to police,” said Rais.

Deceiving people is no new art. With the advent of technology, however, it has metamorphosed into a science. The conmen are using the best of the technology to make a living by cheating and deceit.

Some weeks back, a reporter got an email. “One of Delhi colleagues sent a mail that he was in London and had missed (lost) his purse,” the mail would inform. “He had somehow taken refuge in a hotel and was in desperate need of 100 pounds.” The journalist said that he felt pained and decided to call his friend. He did call but instead of London his friend was in Delhi on the routine desk.

“He said he never visited London and has his purse still in his pocket,” the reporter said. It eventually was a mail generated by somebody who knows how to cheat.

Online frauds targeting gullible people is a worldwide phenomenon. And Kashmir seems to getting its share. A banker had a very interesting story to tell.
“A well meaning gentleman once approached me and he was carrying a set of hundreds of documents that were certifying that he is the owner of Rs 40 crores grant,” said the banker who wishes to remain anonymous.

The candidate was a scholar of a university in Kashmir and was carrying certificates of donors, RBI, police commissioner and many other things. “He said that the money is with the Mumbai Police and some officials are seeking around Rs 30 lakhs to get it released and it was this problem that he wanted the bank to solve,” the banker said. “After I went through the documents I found those to be fake.

These included the signed certificates of the RBI deputy governor but my problem was to get him convinced.” The scholar had gained a lot of confidence on basis of the fake documents.

“To get those documents he might have spent a good sum and the people handling him were keen to get more but it was his luck that he met me and was somehow saved,” the banker added.

This week, the BBC reported that online fraudsters are targeting climate scientists through invitations to fake conferences, often at fictional five-star London hotels.

Scientists are sent e-mails directing them to fake conference websites – often imitating the style of real ones. Typically they are told their travel costs will be refunded – but they have to pay first “to reserve a hotel room”.

SMS has emerged as another source of throwing the bait. “Your (cell) number has won four crores of dollars from United Nation Financial Aid Programme 2010. To claim prize contact Mr Cole on e mail…,” reads an SMS received by a reporter. A number of people receive similar text messages almost every other day. Once one gets hooked to these baits, these eventually ask people to send some money as prerequisite fees.

There have been scores of cases in which people across J&K were cheated and millions of rupees were fraudulently taken by conmen sitting overseas. “We do get these queries about sending money to overseas bank accounts but I was shocked the day when two lady teachers of University of Kashmir came seeking helping in transferring a good amount abroad,” said a nationalized bank official. “I enquired as why they are sending good amount of their savings outside and then they said they had actually won a prize. I was shocked and it was on my advice that they stopped sending it,” he added.

There are people in banks that themselves felt victims. A senior executive of a major bank who was once posted in Mumbai sent an SOS to his boss seeking his guidance to convert a million dollar note.

“He was excited that he will be doing a great job but he never knew that US has no million dollar note,” an officer said. In fact, the million dollar note has sent a number of Kashmiri youth to the jail as an illiterate police in Delhi linked it with sabotage.

Even in Srinagar there were a couple of arrests that had a million dollar note at the centre of it. While these events were making the front page news a female Congress leader visited her bank with a million dollar note and sought it be converted and deposited in her account. “It was a shock to her when we said it does not exist on earth,” said a bank clerk.

Even the traditional trickster has gone for a quantum jump. Meet Aijaz, a God fearing gentleman who was a recent victim.

“One fine morning there was a knock at my door and when I opened, I saw a gentleman introducing himself as a UP entrepreneur,” said Aijaz. He said he is not a beggar but is a major manufacturer of lounghi’s in UP.

“And then he gave me his visiting card, I was impressed”. He said he had come for a visit and lost his baggage and the purse. “I usually fly but now I am a destitute, I would need Rs 500 to reach my home in UP,” he told Aijaz and the latter was willing to help the “great man”. While leaving he told him that if he does not receive his Rs 500 within a month, kindly send me a letter.

The money did not come and Aijaz was keen to get it back. “I wrote a letter complaining that you did not keep his promise,” said Aijaz and the letter got a response.

“It said the address is all right and the name to whom the letter was addressed is also correct but the only problem is that the mill owner had never come to Kashmir,” the letter said. It was a smart beggar who had stolen the entrepreneur’s visiting card and printed it. This was helping him to make money and the money was good.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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