Chandigarh residents lost ₹16 crore to immigration frauds in first half of 2024 - Hindustan Times
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Chandigarh residents lost 16 crore to immigration frauds in first half of 2024

ByNaina Mishra, Chandigarh
Jul 08, 2024 08:00 AM IST

The figure is more than double the total amount lost to such scams in the entire 2023, which stood at ₹7.7 crore, highlighting the growing menace of immigration fraud in Chandigarh

Immigration fraud in Chandigarh has reached alarming levels, as reflected in residents being defrauded of 16.9 crore in the first half of 2024 alone.

In 2024, 42 firms in Chandigarh were identified as being involved in immigration fraud, with the majority located in Sectors 8, 17, 34, and 40. (HT Photo)
In 2024, 42 firms in Chandigarh were identified as being involved in immigration fraud, with the majority located in Sectors 8, 17, 34, and 40. (HT Photo)

The trend is worrisome, as this figure is more than double the total amount lost to such scams in the entire 2023, which stood at 7.7 crore, highlighting the growing menace of immigration fraud in the city and underscoring the need for stringent measures to combat these scams.

The surge in fraudulent activities has translated into a significant increase in the number of FIRs, with 82 cases registered up to June 30, 2024, compared to 60 in the year before. Majority of these cases have been registered for criminal breach of trust, criminal conspiracy and cheating.

In 2021, there were just 11 cases of immigration fraud. The year 2022 saw further spurt in frauds, with 36 cases, before the dramatic rise to 60 in 2023 and 82 in the following year.

The financial losses also increased correspondingly, from 1 crore in 2021 to 4.93 crore in 2022.

Police lodging more FIRs: SSP

When asked about the major spike in cases, Chandigarh SSP Kanwardeep Kaur stated, “The increase in cases can be attributed to more FIR registration by police, both preventive and punitive. These frauds have been taking place over the last four years, but are being reported more now. Fraud takes time, often 1-2 years, to come to light. It doesn’t immediately increase or decrease.”

In 2024, 42 firms in Chandigarh were identified as being involved in immigration fraud, with the majority located in Sectors 8, 17, 34, and 40. The number of fraudulent firms has increased over time, with 33 identified in 2023 and only seven in 2022.

A majority of these frauds are also perpetrated in small, inconspicuous locations, such as tiny shops or homes, often without any visible signage. The fraudsters deceive their clients by promising to send them abroad and pocketing huge sums of money, without fulfilling the deal.

Crackdown against unregistered immigration firms underway

Cracking the whip on unregistered immigration firms, police also lodged 11 FIRs under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (disobedience to an order lawfully promulgated by a public servant), involving 72 firms in 2022.

The subsequent year, 16 FIRs were filed against 20 firms. As of June 30, 2024, nine cases have been registered against nine firms found operating without registration with the Chandigarh administration.

Recently, in the wake of increasing reports of fraudulent activities by travel agents who deceive citizens under the false pretext of arranging visas or managing affairs related to sending individuals abroad, the Chandigarh administration had issued an order under Section 144 of the CrPC, aimed at regulating the activities of travel agents operating within the city.

As per the current practice adopted by Chandigarh, all foreign travel/visa agents must provide complete antecedent details as prescribed in the attached pro forma to the sub-divisional magistrate’s office of their respective areas.

This submission is mandatory for the purpose of information and verification of the owners, operators, and managers of these travel agencies. Agents must get their antecedents verified within four weeks of starting their business.

Advocate Abhimanyu Balyan, practising in Punjab and Haryana high court, who deals with immigration fraud cases said, “Immigration consultation remains an unregulated sector, crucial in economies aspiring for migration to the West. It is imperative for the government to introduce statutes or regulations to formalise this industry. Currently, the lack of prescribed education or work qualifications allows anyone, including those with questionable credentials, to become a counsellor. Agents often make blind promises of work visas, driven by greed, despite the requirement to be registered with the Union ministry of foreign affairs for recruiting for foreign firms.”

“A comprehensive solution involves enacting laws to register all immigration firms and their employees with a government agency, ensuring transparency about counsellors’ educational qualifications,” said Balyan.

Policy hurdle?

To attract more punitive measures and regulation of this sector, Chandigarh has requested to adopt the Punjab Travel Professionals Regulation Act, which provides for detailed procedures for obtaining license under the Act.

It prescribes punishment for people who start business of travel agency business in violation of provisions of the Act. So far, the Chandigarh administration only mandates registration of these firms, but no regulations govern these firms in the absence of the Act.

Well-oiled scam preying on foreign dreams

False promises of visa and overseas opportunities

The fraudulent immigration firms promised to arrange study, travel and employment visas, assuring victims of overseas employment and visa approval

Large sums of money collected

Victims were asked to pay significant amounts upfront and payments were made through cheques or cash.

Use of false documentation

Fake tickets and visas were presented to victims to make the scam appear legitimate

Multiple parties involved

Scams often involved multiple individuals, including firm owners and associates. Different people managed various aspects of the fraudulent activities.

Disappearance after scams

After collecting money, the fraudulent firms would close their offices and disappear. Victims were left with no way to contact the perpetrators

Deceptive advertisements

Misleading advertisements were published in leading newspapers to attract victims. These ads often promised guaranteed visas and employment abroad.

Use of front men

Initial contacts were made through front men or representatives who gained the trust of the victims. Victims were then introduced to higher-level operatives within the firm.

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