G for greedy, not gullible | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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G for greedy, not gullible

A woman in the Central African Republic is ready to hand over her billion-dollar estate to me, because she is leaving the strife-torn country, has no heir, and wants her inheritance to pass on to someone ‘sensible’. Though I was impressed by how she had weaved the country’s civil war into the narrative to make it more believable, what killed the story was the allegation that I was ‘sensible’. Writes Aarish Chhabra...

chandigarh Updated: Feb 09, 2014 19:52 IST

The design chief of this newspaper just won $1,000,000,000, or so said the email that rang his phone in the middle of the evening editorial meeting. Since he is a spiritual man who doubts most outlandish things other than godly sermons, he reacted with a chuckle, and the lottery email was dismissed as a 62-billion-rupee joke.


He’s not alone. I’ve got emails purportedly from the ‘Reserve Bankers of India’ who are desperate to make me rich, very rich. A European woman in the Central African Republic (CAR), in fact, is ready to hand over her billion-dollar estate to me, because she is leaving the strife-torn country, has no heir, and wants her inheritance to pass on to someone “sensible”. Though I was impressed by how she had weaved CAR’s civil war into the narrative to make it more believable, what killed the story was the allegation that I was “sensible”. Clearly, the old lady had not researched her chosen inheritor very well. However, if not sensible, I and our design head were sane enough to see that these are frauds. But not all such chosen, sensible people spot these cons perpetuated through email, phone calls, even SMS and Whatsapp. An increasingly growing pitch is offering loans to people ineligible for bank credit otherwise. Calls originate from phone numbers later traced to Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, and sometimes the UK and US.

Don’t give all the credit to foreigners. Indians are certainly not the kind to be left behind, especially in things related to technology. So, many people who follow up on these lottery emails are asked to deposit some kind of “approval fee” and “processing charges” into accounts at local banks, and many of the conmen and — women are just smart, young, fellow Indians, sitting somewhere in Delhi usually. Those who do not want you to go all the way to the bank simply ask you for your debit card details and password, and make it easier for you to get swindled, sitting in the comfort of your home.

Poetic justice is at play, too. In the true style of a global operation based in India, there are reportedly 10,000 call centres in two-bedroom flats in Delhi that have a few dozen “agents” each, who call people in the US and UK and offer them unsecured loans. Some months ago, The Caravan magazine explained these call centres’ modus operandi. The agents give people a number to call back if they are interested in the loans. When the victim calls back, a supervisor takes over to follow through with the swindle, asking for a “processing fee”. Some people deposit multiple instalments of this “fee”.

In early 2013, a report in the UK’s Daily Mail said 60,000 people in Britain had been cheated out of £10 million (around Rs 100 crore) by fake call centres in India.

I’m not sure if Chandigarh has such call centres yet, but the police here have registered over 1,200 complaints of cyber fraud since January 2013, of which the maximum number is related to money frauds. The newest scam is one ensuring jobs, in India and the beloved phoren. In one case a man deposited nearly Rs 20 lakh to get the “guaranteed” job.

Recently, a man has even been arrested in the city for a medical courses admission fraud that he advertised online. In all these cases, people who could not get loans, admissions or lottery victories through straight routes usually sought to fulfil their desires via these unbelievable offers.

Victims include a senior professor of a premier engineering college in the city, a doctor at one of the best medical institutions in north of Delhi, and even an acquaintance of mine who wouldn’t like his name and greed to be revealed.

Education and life experience remain incidental; greed is the basic instinct that drives these swindles. The motivation of the swindler to make a quick buck is just the beginning. It’s the greed of the email receiver — who turns blind to all common sense in the lure for some free cash, easy admission or even a billion-dollar estate in an African country — which ensures that these scams persist despite making front-page news every second week.

There is a rule that journalists are taught at the very beginning of their careers: If something is too good to be true, it’s probably not true. Remember this adage the next time you win that lottery.