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Friday, Dec 13, 2019

Odisha student’s invite for ‘Nasa drone project’ turns out to be a con

Police in Angul district the juvenile has been booked for impersonation and forging Nasa letterhead to send an e-mail to the Class 9 student over his reported selection in the contest that annually chooses students up to Class 12 across the world.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2019 11:17 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
The boy’s project, Mavic, involved a drone that can land at a particular place through a mobile application and deliver help to accident victims stuck at inaccessible places
The boy’s project, Mavic, involved a drone that can land at a particular place through a mobile application and deliver help to accident victims stuck at inaccessible places(HT Photo)
         

About a month and a half after a 14-year-old boy in Odisha was feted over the reported selection of his project in a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) contest, police registered a case of cybercrime against a juvenile for sending an email posing as the director of one of the US space agency’s divisions.

Police in Angul district the juvenile has been booked for impersonation and forging Nasa letterhead to send an e-mail to the Class 9 student over his reported selection in the contest that annually chooses students up to Class 12 across the world.

“We have managed to track the juvenile who had sent the forged e-mail that informed about the purported selection of Subhranshu Nayak, a Class 9 student of Saraswati Sishu Vidya Mandir, Angul in the space settlement contest,” Angul’s superintendent of police Jagmohan Meena said.

“A case has been registered against the juvenile under Information Technology Act and Juvenile Justice (Protection and Care) Act with the Angul police station,” Meena said.

The SP said as it was not a heinous offence like rape and murder and just mischief was involved, police will submit a detailed investigative report to the Juvenile Justice Board for further action.

Nayak’s school received a mail in September this year, purportedly from Nasa, saying his project has been selected in its 2020 Ames Space Settlement Contest.

His project, Mavic, involved a drone that can land at a particular place through a mobile application and deliver help to accident victims stuck at inaccessible places. Nayak claimed he had uploaded the details of his drone project on the Ames Space Settlement’s website.

The news about Nayak, whose father makes paper bags for a living, being selected by Nasa hit the headlines in local newspapers with local leaders extolling his success. The local Biju Janata Dal (BJD) legislator gave Nayak’s family Rs 50,000 for his travel to the United States while other leaders promised similar help.

“I got inspired to develop a drone after watching Bollywood movie 3 Idiots. Later, I watched on YouTube that one person in Hyderabad got selected in Nasa competition by developing a drone model,” Nayak told a television channel.

The e-mail bearing the signature of Nasa scientist James L Green said the agency had selected Nayak to participate in the international competition.

“We are always looking for bright scientists and engineers to help us. So your student will study hard and do well in the contest. We hope to see your student at Nasa in this competition,” the e-mail said.

It was followed by another mail from Green, the “director” of the Planetary Science Division, which was full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. It said he would like Nayak to come to the US for the contest from November 28, 2019, to January 10, 2020.

It also said around 138 participants across the globe, including two from India, are being invited to visit Nasa’s Space Settlement Centre.

“I confirm that my name is Dr James L Green and work in science division at NASA Ames Research Centre. As I am an American citizen, I am aware that I will be responsible for my visitors and during the visit he will be finance by me and themselves. During their visit they will be staying with me (sic),” said the mail signed by Green.

“The purpose of the visit is for my graduation to attend the contest. I will personally make sure that he return to India before the expiration of the tourist visa (sic),” it said.

Incidentally, Green worked as the director of the Planetary Science Division till April 2018 and has been re-designated as its chief scientist since then. The two mobile phone numbers at the bottom of the mail also turned out to be false.

Though the school authorities initially believed everything Nayak claimed, they had doubts over the several grammatical mistakes in the letter.

“A retired headmaster of our school went through the letter and said it looked fake due to too many spelling and grammatical mistakes. So, we went to Angul SP who also expressed his doubt,” said the head of the school’s management committee, Bijay Modi.

“Finally, our doubts were proved right when no visa assistance came for the boy till November 27 the day he was supposed to travel to the US. So, we lodged a complaint with the police on November 30,” he said.

Modi admitted that they should have detected the fraud had they googled about the contents of the letter.

“The boy’s drone was made in Atal Tinkering Lab of our school. He is a bright student and we believed when he spoke about the e-mail from Nasa. We did not do due diligence,” said Modi.

The boy’s family refused to comment.

This is not the first case of fraud involving Nasa.

In 2016, 18-year-old Sataparna Mukherjee from West Bengal too made up stories of securing an internship with Nasa’s Goddard Institute of Space. Later, Nasa said there were no records of any student called ‘Sataparna Mukherjee’ in the programme and that they had not relaxed the citizenship policy of granting the internship to only US citizens.

In 2014, 27-year-old Arun P Vijayakumar from Kerala claimed that he had been invited by the space agency to join them. His story turned out to be a hoax and was revealed only when a Facebook group called “Netizen Police” investigated his social media accounts.

In 2005, 17-year-old Saurabh Singh from Uttar Pradesh claimed to have aced the ‘International Discovery Exam’ conducted by Nasa at the Oxford University.

Even members of the UP legislative council passed a unanimous resolution to donate their one month’s basic salary towards a fund created for Singh. Later, Nasa officials denied the existence of such an exam.