Covid has taken away so much from all of us; but it has spelled disaster for gullible and careless people.
A 29-year-old Powai resident learnt it the hard way when he lost Rs 11 lakh to a British female ‘friend’ he met on social media; what’s worse is that he had taken loans from friends and family to help the ‘lady’ as he had lost his job at a five-star hotel due to the covid shutdown.
According to the complaint lodged by the victim with Powai police, he worked with the purchasing department of a five-star hotel near Mumbai airport before being made redundant during the early months of the lockdown.
In December last year, he received a friend request on Facebook from a woman who claimed she was from London and working there in a winery. After interacting on the social media platform for a few days, they exchanged their mobile numbers and started talking via WhatsApp. It was during one of these calls that the woman told the victim that she wanted to start a business in India and would need his help.
“Thinking that she needed some logistical help or just guidance, I kept discussing with her plans for the business she said she was exploring. One day, she told me that she needed to buy a farm for fishery business. I advised her to physically come down to India and then decide. However, after a few days, she asked for my residential address, and informed me that she had sent me a valuable gift as well as 50,000 pounds [Rs 50 lakh] via air cargo for setting up the business,” the man told Mumbai Mirror.
He said a couple of days later, he got a call from a woman who identified herself as a customs official. “She told me that I had illegally imported foreign currency – 50,000 pounds – and that it had been detected by Indian officials monitoring foreign exchange transactions. She said that if I wanted to receive the foreign exchange, I would have to pay a fee. She also asked for my email ID. Later, I received an email with a letterhead of the Reserve Bank of India saying that the money had been illegally imported and that I will have to face legal consequences if I didn’t pay the customs fee,” the victim said.
Taking the mails and calls as genuine, he contacted the Facebook friend again. “She insisted on clearing the fee so that I could get the gift and the money. She also promised that she would return the fee once she reaches India,” the victim said, adding that he paid the money through multiple transactions, totalling Rs 11 lakh.
What is worse, he said, he had no savings and had to borrow from others. “I had no savings as I had lost my job. But on her suggestion, I borrowed money from my friends and relatives, and also sold my mother and wife’s jewellery,” he said. The man got suspicious after he found that despite paying the ‘Customs’ fee in full, he wasn’t close to getting the parcel. “I then approached the police and formally lodged a complaint,” he said. “It’s a terrible experience. The debtors are asking for their money, and I don’t know what to do. I was already depressed due to the job loss, and now I am under heavy debt,” he said. The Powai police said that they are trying to trace the cyber fraudsters.
Staying safe online: A few tips
• Never, ever share the OTP number with anyone. No Matter What.
• Never shell out money/your details to see a vehicle. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it definitely is
• If somebody wants to buy a product without even touching and feeling it (a very Indian trait), then the buyer in all likelihood is a scamster. Do not accept QR codes from unknown people
• Nobody gives you a job after taking money from you. It only happens sometimes in the government where top officials pay bribes to get a posting of their choice