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The new ‘Nigerian prince’: Second-hand vehicles listed online by fake Armymen

The officer’s response? “Aap bhi bevakoof ban gaye? Ye roz ki kahaani hai, yahan roz 100 log aate hain. (You got fooled too? It’s an everyday story; hundreds come looking).”

Written by Gaurav Bhatt , Mahender Singh Manral | New Delhi | August 3, 2020 2:42:56 am
bs iv vehicle sale, sc on bs iv vehicles sales, india lockdown. vehicle sales duting lockdown, coronavirus lockdown, covid-19 lockdown, indian express A vehicle is listed at a ludicrously low price by a defence person, who is quick to share in-uniform photos and IDs (voter, PAN, Aadhaar or canteen smart cards) with anybody who calls. (Representational image)

After an hour-long wait in the parking lot at Delhi’s IGI airport, Vikas Singh Bisht walked up to a CISF officer on patrol and asked: “Do you know an officer named Sanjay Kumar? I am supposed to buy a second-hand scooty from him here. It was listed on OLX.”

The officer’s response? “Aap bhi bevakoof ban gaye? Ye roz ki kahaani hai, yahan roz 100 log aate hain. (You got fooled too? It’s an everyday story; hundreds come looking).”

“That was his first reaction, and I realised it must be a regular scam here,” says Bisht, who had travelled 40 km from his residence in Vasundhara to Terminal 1. “We had agreed on everything the day before, and when I reached the airport, this Sanjay Kumar kept stalling and asking me for Rs 2,100. When I tried making a video call, he said, ‘it’s not allowed here in the office. Just pay me the money’.”

Bisht, himself a trader with e-portals like Amazon and Flipkart, wisened up in time — unlike many who fall daily for the TVS Jupiter that pops up endlessly on online marketplaces.

Type in ‘OLX’ in search engines and autofill algorithms throw up ‘army fraud’ as a suggestion. Consumer complaint forums and social media websites are filled with testimonies of victims. Indians being duped by fake Armymen is quickly becoming the new ‘Nigerian prince’ scam.

The con is simple. A vehicle is listed at a ludicrously low price by a defence person, who is quick to share in-uniform photos and IDs (voter, PAN, Aadhaar or canteen smart cards) with anybody who calls. Negotiations are swift and online payment through e-wallet is insisted upon. The seller then proposes two options: Get the vehicle home delivered or come and meet at the airport. Either way, he asks for an advance amount upfront for delivery or gate pass fees, and vanishes once the transaction is complete.

The profile photos are taken from Army fan pages or Google search results. The IDs are mostly forged. The TVS Jupiter, with the same licence plate, has been listed on OLX hundreds of times even as ‘Sanjay Kumar’s’ address changes from Delhi Cantt, Adarsh Nagar, Rohtak, Panipat, Noida, Greater Noida, Bulandshahr, etc.

On Thursday, the same vehicle was listed on OLX simultaneously by three separate accounts.

“Since that day, I have been looking up the guy and his scooty on Facebook and OLX and trying to save people by reporting the ads,” says Bisht.

It is a noble attempt at taking down a pan-India scam that’s been running for close to two years.

Replace TVS Jupiter with a KTM 390, Royal Enfield Electra or Mahindra Bolero. Rendezvous points are mostly airports so the CISF duty story checks out. The scam has been running for more than a year and cases have been reported across India — in Mumbai, Mysuru, Sambalpur, Hyderabad, Kalimpong, Jamnagar, etc.

The seller may be Vikas Patel from Pune or Lakha Singh from Ludhiana, but they will always be dressed in a uniform. “Posing as a defence person means there’s always an excuse for anything,” says a senior officer with the Delhi Police cyber cell. “‘I can’t pick up calls, I can’t carry my phone here. I can’t speak on the phone now’. The locations are mostly remote.”

In February, CISF posted an advisory on Twitter raising awareness about “frauds pretending to be force personnel projecting from CISF or other Defence Forces… These fraud persons are cheating/duping others in pretext of selling/buying through OLX.”

CISF has had to tweet that 21 times in July alone.

Gopal Gaur, a Mayur Vihar resident, lost his job in March. After landing a post at a hotel last month, he raised funds to purchase a used vehicle to commute. Enter Sanjay Kumar’s TVS Jupiter.

Gaur even looked up the number plate on ‘Vahan’ — the vehicle registration website — and found that the vehicle was indeed registered to a ‘Sanjay Kumar’ in East Delhi.

“He had all the documents. He was so persuasive, sent so many photos and spoke with me on the phone regularly. Midway to the airport, he even called me on video, wearing his uniform. Once there, he asked for Rs 3,100 advance payment to get the gate pass done and to convince me, he sent a photo of his senior officer sitting in the office.”

Gaur paid the advance, and the scammer went a step further.

“He then sent a ‘colleague’ to meet me, who asked for the remaining Rs 14,000. I said please show me the scooter and he replied: ‘Itna sab aapko dikha diya. Ab faujiyon pe yakeen nahi hai?’”

After the transaction, he went to get the vehicle and the documents. Gaur waited for an hour before returning home to file a complaint at the Mayur Vihar police station.

DCP (Crime Branch) Bhisham Singh says the “volume of cases is high as people have been sitting at home”.

“The scammers too are sitting at home, trying to find victims every day. Say, for example, we catch a gang. The energy it takes to solve such a case, utna amount nahi gaya hota. The cost-benefit ratio of nabbing a gang from Jharkhand which has scammed Rs 5,000,” says Bhisham.

“Investigating these cases is a challenging thing for various reasons,” says the cyber cell officer. “Most cases originate from Mewat, which forms the tri-junction of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Then the money is rooted from one account to another, to third and fourth. Determining the final beneficiary, the kind of document collecting that is needed is challenging. We crack cases, nab people but they are immediately replaced by new ones. The only strategy here is prevention. People need to be aware of who they are dealing with online.”

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