Conmen posing as 'Mr. Right' dupe Mumbai women of their savings
Last December, when 28-year-old Lokhandwala resident Payal Jadhav (name changed) logged on to a matrimonial site, she noticed that she had received an ‘expression of interest’ from a pilot, who divided his time between Mumbai and Germany (where the airline he was working for, was based). Initially, she rejected his request. But Rane persisted and, in January, Jadhav, an executive at a BKC financial services firm, relented.
Her first comments about Rane, when mid-day meets her, are, “He didn’t look like a pilot. And I told him so.” It’s probably an instinct that Jadhav should have gone with.
Two months and Rs 80,000 later, she realised Rane was not a pilot — he is a Parel resident employed with the Indian Railways — but, already being married with a two-year-old son, he was definitely not in the market for marriage. Rane, whose real name is Anand Avadhnaresh Singh, turned out to be a serial ‘groom’ — who would prowl the many matrimonial sites on, and after earning the ladies’ trust, plunder them of their savings.
Jadhav isn’t Singh’s only victim. A trackdown of a 15-day call record helped her identify eight others who had also been duped — she believes there can be, easily, many more.
At the Cyber Police Station in Bandra Kurla Complex, a total of six cases of similar fraud were registered in 2015, with the total cheating amount going up to R1.53 crore. Of these, only two have been solved so far. And, this is only one police station in the city. Often, cases are registered in singular police stations. For instance, six such cases were registered at DN Nagar Police Station in 2015. There are 93 police stations in Mumbai. You do the math.
An officer from the police station, not wishing to be identified, said, “It just requires a smooth talker and one mobile phone to commit this sort of fraud where women are ready to transfer lakhs online.”
The women, themselves, are successful and well to do. Most of them are senior executives, in their 30s, with high salaries, something the cons take into careful consideration while connecting with them.
Pilot with a CIA connect
Singh’s response to the “you-don’t-look-like-a-pilot” remark was as intelligent, as it was perhaps practised. The spiel that the 28-year-old HSC-pass, who landed a job at Central Railway as a trainee technician after his father passed away, was: “Nowadays, girls create a perception about guys by watching Bollywood flicks. It’s the intensive training that they undergo that makes pilots stand apart from others.” That the ‘pilot’ spoke ‘good’ English with a ‘good’ accent and the way he’d dress and carry himself, left quite an impression on Jadhav, who has an MCom degree and earns Rs 10L per month.
Over the two months they were in touch, Jadhav and Singh chatted on instant messaging sites, and occasionally on Skype. Jadhav says the two had also met in Matunga and Bandra at restaurants, cafés and malls. He had claimed that he had a small home in Matunga.
During the two months, though, Jadhav believed that they would get married, Singh never met her parents. Nor, did she meet his family. His back story, of course, ensured that Jadhav didn’t get suspicious.
Singh had told her that his parents had died in a road accident on Eastern Express Highway in 2010. His sole family, his sister, was a doctor married to a CIA agent and living in America. “Arjun’s stories would have the tragedy angle, so he’d get enough sympathy from the women. He’d also throw in something to impress, like the sister-from-US-married-to-a-CIA-agent. And then, he’d lie so flawlessly and confidently that it wasn’t easy to doubt him,” Jadhav shrugs.
Show me the money
The demand for money creeps up slowly, the police will tell you. “They cheat women professionally,” Andheri resident Rita Pascal (name changed) told the police in her statement.
“In the first stage, the conmen make you fall in love with them. Then, they gain your sympathy. And, finally, they create circumstances that make you feel that all of a sudden they are about to land a huge sum, which will solve their problems. This means that they will be able to spend the rest of their lives with you, happily ever after.” Of course, to get to that happily ever after, means that the lady love first has to shell out some cash. “This is where the innocent women fall prey. I thought the guy is already rich and with him getting the huge sum, roads will be clear for our future,” Pascal has said in her statement about the fraud that took place between October 2013 - January 2014.
Pascal, who fell victim to a typical Nigerian fraud ended up selling her Andheri East home to collect a sum of R88.39 lakh to help Akogham Romney, an American national and a senior manager with a Delhi-based MNC, help start his business.
Romney, with whom Pascal had connected over a popular matrimonial site, is a senior executive with a private bank. The 34-year-old MBA has told the police, “We exchanged contact numbers and then chatted over online messenger and Skype. I gradually realised I like him.”
Which is probably why she didn’t hesitate when he said he needed money to bribe government officials back in America to retrieve his family gold (which was ill-gotten and worth $1.19million) from his frozen account.
Later, a friend claimed to have brought the money to India and Pascal had to give him a sum for customs clearance. To cut a long Nigerian-fraud-story short, Pascal ended up selling her second home to help Romeny retrieve his money and then to help fund a friend’s operation (who, eventually died).
It was the continuing demands for money that raised a red flag for both Pascal and Jadhav. Jadhav, first gave Singh Rs 80,000 after he claimed that his laptop, wallet and phone had been stolen. His sister, he told her, had gone on a vacation with her husband. And since he was a CIA agent, he didn’t know their location or couldn’t connect with her.
It was when the demands for money became more frequent that Jadhav sealed her pockets.
“When he realised that I wasn’t lending him any more money, he vanished,” she said. Worried that perhaps Singh might, out of depression, attempt suicide, Jadhav sent him messages about planning to file a missing person’s complaint. It was when there was no response to even that that Jadhav turned sleuth.
Managing to retrieve his call records of the last 15 days, she realised that Singh had been simultaneously chatting with eight other women — all of whom he’d met on matrimonial sites.
Tragedy makes a great story
Among his other victims that Jadhav connected with is Mrunal Gite (name changed), a 29-year-old senior HR manager with an American multinational. Gite says as with his other victims, Singh gave her the parents-dead-spiel making her immediately sympathise. She gave him Rs 25,000 although, she had never met him. Singh had a friend collect the money from her.
“If a girl, who is looking for a mature and independent man on a matrimonial site, comes across a pilot with a home in upmarket Bandra Bandstand, and relatives in California, she will consider him for marriage,” Gite says matter-of-factly. That he would call her from international numbers, helped her believe that he was the globe-trotting pilot he claimed to be.
Annie Rolph (name changed), a 46-year-old senior vice-president at a famous multiplex giant was cheated of R1 crore after having fallen for the sad story. The Dahisar resident met a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) on a matrimonial site. With the phone flashing an international number during their calls, Rolph didn’t suspect that the story could be false.
Within three months of their first chat, the man told Rolph that his mother had cancer and that his father, a scientist, needed special seeds procured from India to help cure her. Could Rolph buy those seeds? He’d pay her later. The payment, the man told her, had been sent through cargo in British pounds, but was stuck in customs. To get that cleared, she’d have to deposit cash into the custom official’s bank account. In the six months that she knew him, she lost Rs 1.01 crore.
Lessons from Bollywood
It’s often too clichéd to use a Bollywood analogy, but the first half of the 2011 flick, Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl, is pretty much the course of Jadhav’s actions after she found out that Singh had cheated her. Using her resources, Jadhav tracked down his other targets. She got his photos enhanced, obtained call records, details of his profiles on matrimonial and social networking sites, and handed all the data over to the Cyber Police Station.
An FIR was lodged on March 10. Singh has been charged with sections 419 (cheating by personation), 420 (cheating) of Indian Penal Code and 66C (identity theft) and 66D (cheating by personation by using computer resource) of Information Technology Act. “I ensured the police register as many cheating cases as were valid against him and keep him behind the bars,” she said. On April 3, he was granted bail.
The police arrested Singh for duping the women collectively, of Rs 3.5 lakh, but Jadhav is convinced the amount is way higher. “If I could find eight victims by scanning just his call details of 15 days, you can imagine how many girls might have been cheated over months or years,” she says.
Your average Nigerian fraud
In the case of both Pascal and Rolph, a friend of the could-have-been-groom met them with a bag full of foreign currency coated with a chemical to clear vigilance at the airport. The women were given a demo on how once the chemical was removed the currency underneath was genuine. Later, their ‘beaus’ told them that the chemical and activation powder had been lost and they needed money to procure more. This would cost lakhs.
The profile set up by Anand Avadhnaresh Singh on a matrimonial site. Singh would pose as pilot Arjun Rane. Officers from the Cyber Police Station say he has duped nine women of Rs 3.5 lakh, but one of his victims (who helped trace the others), is convinced the amount is higher, as is the count of victims
Name: Kiran Bagawe; Age: 29
Lives in: Dombivli
Cheated: 22 girls across the state
MO: Bagawe set up fake profiles on matrimonial sites and defrauded women of lakhs. Police arrested him in October 2014. A Std 12 dropout, Bagawe would pose as an IT engineer to target girls. His profile picture belonged to a good-looking classmate. Police found in the probe that he sent ‘interest requests’ to 1,207 women. He would never meet them personally. He would pose as a well-educated man belonging to a well-to-do family based in South Africa. He would use voice changing apps on his phone to make his victims believe they were speaking to his family members. Bagwe would do everything to ensure that the victims believed he was going to marry them. He would give them legal bond papers to this effect.
Safety measures to take
An officer from the Cyber Police Station has these pointers for those who go online to look for life partners:
>> Beware of those who try to request money from you for any reason. Genuine people will not do it in any circumstance
>> If someone provides you a phone number with a strange area code, check it out to make sure it’s a genuine number
>> Don’t use your regular/official email ID for communicating with have met online
>> Ask a friend or relative to read the emails you receive, as an unbiased observer can spot warning signs you may have missed
>> Furnish your contact number only when you feel completely comfortable and have some information about the other person
Murugavel Janakiraman, founder and managing director, of Matrimony.com, says their site includes certain measures to ensure that fewer frauds occur. He says:
a) We encourage members to upload ‘Trust Badges’ to their profiles — govt ID, proof of income, occupation, education etc.
b) We encourage members not to concede to requests for money. We encourage members not to give consent for marriage unless they have adequate background and reference checks conducted
Aditya Save, CMO of Shaadi.com, says:
a) We deploy rule engines to sniff out and block fake and fraudulent profiles. We leverage online and offline integrations to verify profiles, award trust badges and social verification
b) We track login IP
c) We have a real name policy unlike other online platforms