AHMEDABAD: Whether it is their capacity for glib talk or their victims’ gullibility, you cannot but marvel at the ability of these educated con men to persuade people to part with their precious belongings, despite tell-tale signs of fraud. The smooth-talking operators perform their tricks and vanish, leaving their victims wondering how they could have been so foolish.
In July, Odhav police busted a gang of tricksters who claimed to be from a ‘government organization’. These men had cheated nearly 1,000 traders and shopkeepers across the state for a decade and raked in lakhs of rupees. Police later uncovered more than 300 incidents in which the con men were involved.
Ahmedabad seems to attract fraudsters from within the state as well as from outside. The city police have a veritable rogue’s gallery of educated criminals. Here is a look at some of the gangs and the different methods adopted by them to dupe people in the city.
Government agency scam
A person comes to you and introduces himself (or herself) as the representative of a government organization. This immediately puts you, the common man, on the back foot. The con man tells you how many rules you have broken concerning matters such as pollution, illegal construction or simply not disposing of waste in the correct manner. Before you have doubts about their identity and demand an identity card, they hand you a challan and ask you to pay the fine amount at their ‘centralized office’. Chances are, you will go and pay the fine without asking any questions.
A gang became active in 2003 when it set up a group called Grahak Suraksha Trust. The gang members even got vehicles emblazoned with official-looking number plates and started conducting raids on commercial establishments, mainly eateries and small traders. VD Brahmbhatt, inspector of Odhav police station, said that after initial success, the gang which sometimes had as many as 15 persons, extend its activities across the state.
“They asked the victims to deposit the fine – which could be any amount from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000 – at an office. They were operating out of rented premises to which they had given the look of a government department, complete with letter heads, receipt books and stationary. So far, we have learnt of cases in Junagadh, Morbi, Mehsana, Anand, Vadodara and Ahmedabad in which they were involved,” he said.
Online advertising scam
Who doesn’t want to get rich overnight? The suggestion that you can get back your investment in just two months and keep earning hefty sums round the year is too lucrative to be ignored. Such a scheme was floated by the now discredited online advertising agency, ros4you.com. The scheme was deceptively simple. The website would appoint its local representatives in every city, district and, later, even talukas for mailing promotional material to email addresses identified for the purpose. One had to pay Rs 5,000 to be a ‘silver member’ and Rs 10,000 to be a ‘gold member’ and then get official IDs from the company to send the mails. For every mail sent, the sender was promised a commission that came to Rs 5,100 per month.
Sub-inspector of Anand town police station, PK Diyora, said that they were able to bust the racket after receiving a number of complaints last month.
“We found that thousands of youths had enrolled to get most out of the scheme. Many were not even conversant with the world of online marketing. Yet they had invested in computer systems and hired people for sending mails. The scheme started in February 2012 and by December last year, it had nearly 5,000 members in the state, especially in Ahmedabad, Anand, Kheda and Vadodara. Like the Ponzi schemes that were busted earlier, the new entrants had joined when they saw older members becoming wealthy. So far, we have got complaints of cheating involving Rs 2 crore. We suspect it will go up to Rs 10 crore,” said Diyora.
Fake documents scam
Two men dressed as senior corporate executives approach the owner of a computer shop and weave a tale about an office being set up. They place an order for 20 laptops and pay Rs 70,000 in cash upfront and Rs 4.8 lakh in demand drafts. The owner, seeing such a big order, accepts them and delivers the laptops to the given address, happy with a business of more than Rs 5 lakh. Unfortunately, the DDs turn out to be fake.
A gang that had operated this modus operandi was busted in 2012 by the Karanj police. The six-member gang of con men confessed to involvement in more than 10 cases in the state in which they had targeted mainly computer showrooms and later sold off the goods in the black market to get the money.
An official of the Karanj police station said that the gang selected their victims from the telephone directory. “They first asked about specifications of laptops and then placed a huge order, mostly on Fridays. On Saturday, the crooks would visit the computer showroom and, after some hard bargaining, part with a small portion of the payment in cash. The rest of the payment would be in demand drafts. Computers would be delivered and, on Monday, when the unsuspecting traders checked with the bank, they discovered that the drafts were forged. By then the cheats had disappeared with the laptops,” said the police officer.
Job/ immigration scam
A conman took the fake cop racket to an altogether new height in 2012. Daljit Bhamra, a resident of Chandkheda, made lakhs from graduates who were cheated with the promise of a job in the police department. Bhamra is class X pass and was an electrician. But he used to go around in a vehicle with ‘Police’ stickers in the front and at the back, carried a fake revolver and even had handcuffs to convince people that he was in the police. He used to show a letter from the state government that ostensibly gave him the power of appointment.
Bhamra began by contacting aspirants for a police job. He promised jobs in all ranks up to the rank of deputy superintendent of police. A constable’s job came for Rs 20,000 and if you wish to be appointed as a DySP, you had to shell out Rs 5 lakh.
The city crime branch has uncovered seven cases in which Bhamra had duped people but investigators believe that the actual number of victims is much higher as most had not revealed they had been cheated out of embarrassment.
Most scams that occurred in the education sector were of degree-on-demand type in which theconmen sold thousands of fake degrees and certificates to job aspirants keen to embellish their profiles. A gang busted by the city crime branch last year claimed to have distributed 5,000 certificates for courses such as BBA, BCA, MBA, MCA and BE among others. A group of conmen led by Bobby Singh Mehdirata, used to charge Rs 25,000 to Rs 1 lakh for a set of certificates of recognized institutions.
Then there are the immigration scams. More than 20 cases have been reported in the city related to immigration in past six months. Victims were asked to provide pay for various charges and relevant documents required for migrating to European and North American countries for studies or jobs. In each case, the victims lost more than Rs 1 lakh each and in some cases even lost their original documents.
The most common of all scams and which takes advantage of victims’ greed is that in which people were duped when they purchased a ‘pot of gold’ or gold ornaments at throwaway prices. In the latest such scam, the city police arrested four people four months back, with yellow metal coins from Dehgam ring road. The accused – Kanji and Velji Zandawala, residents of Noblenagar; and Mukesh Zandawala and Ramji Marwadi, residents of Gandhinagar – were found in possession of Rs 3 lakh which they confessed they had got from selling ordinary coins as coins of gold.
KI Modi, inspector of Naroda police station, said that in most such cases, a man approaches an individual with a sad story and says that he is in dire need of money. “He then offers a pot of ancient gold coins that they claim they had accidentally found while digging for a residential complex but which they had not disclosed to the owners. They now want to dispose it of at a throwaway price and even offer one coin for verification. This coin is made of solid gold and would pass the test of any jeweler. The victims is convinced and is thrilled to get the pot of gold at bargain price. He eventually ends up with an earthen pot full of metal,” he said.
Another modus operandi that catches housewives off-guard involves polishers offering their service for free cleaning of gold ornaments. Most cases were reported between 2007 and 2010 but incidents still occur. The con men generally work in pairs. They first sell jewellery cleaning powder and then offer a demonstration for which they ask for gold ornaments and put them in a boiling pot for chemical cleaning. In between, they flick the ornaments and leave the spot. The victim has the shock of her life when she later finds the pot empty.