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Healing scam creeps into US

The 'spiritual healer' is said to have bilked Indians looking for cures from many afflictions, writes S Rajagopalan.

india Updated: Feb 15, 2006 16:02 IST
S Rajagopalan
S Rajagopalan

The great Indian "faith healing" scam appears to have sneaked into the US, chasing the wealth of well-ensconced Indian Americans.

In perhaps the first instance of its kind in the US, a self-proclaimed Indian "spiritual healer" has made away with upwards of $1 million (Rs 4.5 crore) by winning the trust of his gullible clientele in the San Francisco Bay area.

California Police have spread their dragnet for the man, who disappeared from his rented home in Union City towards January end.

He is said to have bilked at least 20 people in San Jose, San Mateo, Millbrae, Hayward, Union City and Newark.

His victims were mostly Indians looking for cures for family members suffering from a variety of health afflictions.

And some others were simply taken in by his tall promises to dole out winning lottery numbers.

The man in his mid-30s, calling himself Iqbal, attracted attention by running radio ads in the region’s South Asian channel, Radio Humsafar.

Victims ended up parting with cash and cashier’s cheques between $10,000 and $200,000 after the first two "free" consultations, according to a report in the Contra Costa Times.

By the time of the third visit, Iqbal would come up with offers to help his clients with winning lottery numbers.

According to Police Lt Jim Bizieff, the conman told his victims that they could win $1 million in the California lottery for every $10,000 they gave him.

The scam reportedly involved a magic trick in which Iqbal would pull out winning lottery numbers from boiled eggs.

One of his victims is TJ Bajwa of San Jose, who was looking for a cure for his wife’s arthritis.

"I don’t know what he did to me that I did something so stupid. I gave him cash. He has some kind of magic power," said Bajwa, who reportedly forked out $75,000 in the hope of winning $7.5 million.

When Bajwa went to meet Iqbal in the last week of January, he found the man was gone. There was only a note from the Union City police asking victims to come forward.

Bajwa and others have left notes, while the police say they are looking for the man "with dark, short, wavy hair, standing about 5 ft 4 in, who walks with a limp".

First Published: Feb 15, 2006 16:02 IST