Here's a reason why friendships on Facebook should not be taken at 'face' value. A team of fraudsters — many of the members posing as government officials —has duped a Vikhroli-based housewife of Rs 8.32 lakh, by making her deposit money in various accounts as “customs clearance fees” for a birthday gift worth £20,000 (Rs 19 lakh).
Vikhroli police has registered a case of criminal conspiracy, impersonation and cheating against eight people. The victim, Shalini Jadhav (name changed), is the daughter of a city traffic police officer. Shalini's husband works abroad. In her statement to cops, the 32-year-old said an UK national, Michael Finch, befriended her in September, last year. “They became fast friends and exchanged phone numbers,” said an official from Vikhroli police station.
The birthday gift
The scam began just as Shalini's birthday was approaching. “For her birthday in August, Finch said he wants to send a gift. Although, initially, she refused to accept gifts from him, she bowed to his requests. Few days later, she received a call from Shreya Sharma, who identified herself as a customs officer from IGI Airport, New Delhi.
Sharma informed her that a parcel had arrived for her that contained cash up to £20,000 (R19 lakh), but in order to receive it she needs to pay customs duty. After Finch confirmed that's what he had sent, Shalini deposited some money in a bank account as customs fees,” the official said.
RBI comes knocking
The “customs fees” was only the tip of the iceberg as in the days to follow, Shalini received a call and a mail from Sumit Sharma, who identified himself as the regional director of Reserve Bank of India (RBI). “After this, Shalini kept receiving calls at least 6 'government officials' who asked her to deposit money in various accounts. She deposited R8.32 lakh in eight transactions,” said the police official.
Shalini realised she had been duped when she received a call from an officer from the Kalachowki police station. This officer said he was investigating a similar fraud case and while probing the fraudster's phone records, he came across Shalini's phone number and their chat details. “Shalini was shocked when this Kalachowki officer told her Finch is not an UK national but probably a Nigerian, who has been duping many. She filed a case on February 1,” said the official.
“We are trying to obtain details of these accounts, which may be in Delhi and Rajasthan. We have registered a case of criminal conspiracy, impersonation and cheating,” said sub-inspector RD Jadhav of Parkside police station in Vikhroli.