How Haryana gang duped 200 people with ‘Mughal-era’ gold bars
Sikandar Babulal Nadaf, 30, a mechanic in Sangli, Maharashtra, thought lady luck had come ringing on his phone when a man, claiming to be an acquaintance, shared a simple plan that Nadaf thought would make him a millionaire.
Nadaf bought four antique gold bars, each weighing 800 grams, for ₹34 lakh from a man in Nuh, Haryana. Going by prevailing gold prices in Delhi, 3200 gm of gold would cost ₹12.3 crore. However, when he tried to sell them to a goldsmith, he was told they were made of brass, not gold.
Nadaf was one of 200 people who have been duped by the Tatlu gang, active in Nuh district of Haryana. Investigators say it is a call centre racket at its heart, with the added lure of gold to it. There are several gangs, which usually operate with a maximum of six members. They set up a call centre in one of the remote villages, buy data in the black market and call up people to dupe them in the name of ‘Mughal-era’ gold bars. Police say they have targeted people from across the country with victims coming forward to report the crime from Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Northeastern states and Uttar Pradesh.
Nadaf, however, was among one of the rare victims who had actually met one of those who had defrauded him. He told the police that he met a person called Lukman and three of his friends at the Nuh bus stand when he was visiting the district in February last year. Lukman told him about the Mughal-era gold bricks, which he claimed to have found buried in his ancestral land.
Lukman said he could not sell the bricks in the open market since they were antiques and offered them to him at dirt cheap rates. As per his statement to the local Nuh police, Nadaf needed money to treat his father and fell into the trap. He was taken to a remote village and shown the brick. When he asked for a sample, the cheats gave him a real piece of gold, which they claimed had been taken off one of the bricks.
After a goldsmith, known to Nadaf, certified it to be pure, Nadaf visited Nuh again on March 24 last year with ₹34 lakh that he had borrowed from his friends and family. He bought four bricks and returned home. When he tried to sell them, he was told that it was brass.
A case was registered on March 24 at Nuh police station. Nadaf said, “I fell for the convincing manner in which he told the story. I have lost whatever little I had. Now, I am working day and night to repay the loan I had taken to buy the bricks. My life has taken a turn for the worse,” Nadaf said.
Call centre scams have become rampant in Delhi-NCR, with several of them busted by police forces of Delhi, Noida and Gurugram. Most of them were branded ‘tech support scams’ since they targeted computer users by sending viruses and then offering solutions by posing as representatives of software giants like Microsoft. With their victims scattered across the world, investigating agencies such as the USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and UK’s Scotland Yard have collaborated with the police forces in Delhi-NCR to bust them. In December 2018, the Gurugram and Noida police busted 17 such call centres that had targeted over 50,000 people across 15 countries.
The gold brick tricksters, however, are not as technically dexterous as the tech support ones. “They mainly play on the greed of people mostly from the middle, or lower-middle class. Since gold is still a major attraction as well as investment in India, the Tatlu gang has no dearth of targets. They are glib talkers and have all sorts of answers ready for all possible questions that a potential target may ask,” an investigator said.
Cases of such frauds have not been confined to Nuh, with many others taking to the crime, encouraged by the success of the initial ones. Now, police stations in Paldi, Punhana, Ferozepur Zirka, Nagina and Pinagwan too are investigating similar cases. So far, 210 cases have been registered by the Haryana police and 171 men have been arrested, police said.
Sangeeta Kalia, superintendent of police, Nuh, said investigations in many cases showed that these men buy CDs with phone numbers in black markets from Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh and call up random people from makeshift call centres set up in rooms in the interiors of Mewat and trap people.
Kalia said buyers of these bricks try to do the due diligence by getting a portion of the brick tested by jewellers, and some them even bring a goldsmith along. “However, gang members often divert the attention of the buyer at the time of handing over the test object and by sleight of hand, give them an original piece of gold. This wipes out all tge doubts a buyer may have. In some of the cases, people have incurred losses to the tune of over ₹30 lakh” Kalia said. If the buyer is still able to smell the rat at the last moment, they are is forced to part with the money at gunpoint, she said.
“They buy cellphone numbers with fake identity cards, use them and once done, throw away SIM cards to evade tracking by the police,” Kalia said.
In March this year, 32-year-old Pallaram, who goes by his first name, and works as an earthmoving machine operator in Karnal, had gone to Hisar to buy a pump for his machine. He met Mushtaq there. “In the last week of March, Mushtaq called me and said he has a gold brick which he found buried in the ground near havelis in Nuh and that he had kept it safe as he feared that police will take it away, since it was an antique. I went to Maroda village in Nagina on April 8. Three people picked me from the bus stand and took me through a non-motorable road to a nearby village where they introduced me to two others, including an old man. They took out a gold brick wrapped in a torn cloth and said the cost of the brick is ₹32 lakh, but would sell it to me for ₹10 lakh,” Pallaram said.
He was offered a piece to get tested. He returned to his village and was told it was genuine. “I took a loan from friends and relatives. I thought that with the profit from the deal, I would build a house, buy a new motorcycle and save some for my children,” he said.
He negotiated the price further and got Mushtaq agree to sell the brick to him for ₹5 lakh. He, along with his brother-in-law, hired a taxi from Karnal and reached the village with ₹5 lakh. Mushtaq took him to a field and handed him the brick. “I took the brick and we returned to the village. When we went to jeweller, he told us it was brass not gold,” Pallaram said
He approached the police, and a case under sections 379A (snatching), 420 (fraud), 506(criminal intimidation), 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code was registered at Nuh police station.
“Despite the police spreading awareness on various social media platforms and in newspapers, people don’t learn to be wary of such frauds. They still fall prey to these lucrative offers. It is not just uneducated people. Even well-educated individuals fall in their trap,” Kalia said.
In 2007, the police even installed notice boards near bus stands in Nuh alerting people about the Tatlu gang, with details of their modus operandi. However, they had to be removed within three months after a group of activists alleged that the boards maligned the reputation of the area due to a few people. Rajuddin, a social worker active in the Mewat region, said the boards had been earning notoriety for the area and hence a PIL to have them removed was filed in court. He said despite claiming to have undertaken special drives, the police have not been able to curb the Tatlu gang.
This year until July 9, Nuh police have registered 24 cases against 138 people who have duped others of ₹2.2 crore. Twelve people have been arrested and the police have recovered ₹1.4 crore from the accused.
Shikha Jain, state convenor, INTACH Haryana chapter and member of heritage commitees under ministries of culture and human resources development, said anybody buying an antique must demand registration papers from the seller. “Whenever, an antique with historical value is found, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) registers it. Also, if an individual finds any such artifact, he has to get it registered with the body under the ASI Antiquity and Treasures Act, 1972. Individual heirlooms that are 100 years or older must also be registered,” she said.
“It is a crime to sell and buy unregistered antiquities, so even the buyers are culpable. If one has to buy antiques, it should be done with proper paperwork or from registered auction houses or museums and collectors,” Jain said.
•Suspects arrested so far have told the police that they got the bricks made in Rajasthan
•The brick has some engravings, which looks like Persian, on it to make it look original
•Police say the Tatlu gang was formed the late 1980s
•Investigators say such gangs duped hundreds of over at least Rs 10 crore so far
•They choose their victims indiscriminately, just dialing numbers in a random order. Of 200 calls they make every day, roughly three fall into the trap, investigators said.
•When they get a positive response, they keep proper record of call time and the negotiated price, date and time of meeting, etc.
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