11 stranded at airport after paying Rs 8 lakh to fraud tour agent

Jul 30, 2013, 01:01 IST | Saurabh Vaktania

Two months of intense planning and feverish excitement came to naught for three Virar-based families -- who had planned a trip to Hong Kong and Macau -- after their sophisticated tour operator turned out to be a swindler

Ever get that hollow feeling when a trip you have been planning for days and weeks gets canned at the last minute? Well, it couldn’t have been as empty as it was for these three Virar-based families, waiting at the airport all packed up and excited, when their travel agent did not show up with the tickets as he had promised.

Star-crossed holidays: The families had booked their tickets online. Bhikubhai Gosiya (right) and Rajesh Baxi (middle) with other family members.

The Baxis, Jains and Gosiyas are close friends. They were all set to fly to Disney Land in Hong Kong and later to Macau. But they never could make it to take-off, thanks to the conman they took for a suave tour operator.

The families booked their tickets online on starxholiday.com after which they were approached by a representative of the website. “With his attire and well-spoken behaviour, it was difficult to suspect he could be a con artist. We trusted him and each of the families handed over Rs 2-3 lakh in cash for a six-days-five-nights tour package. We got the shock of our life on reaching the airport as we realised that he had cheated us,” said Rajesh Baxi, one of the victims.

An estate agent by profession, Baxi said, “My two daughters, who are pursuing MBBS in Moscow, were due to come down in June, so we thought of a family trip abroad. I also asked the my two close friends to accompany me with their families (the Jains and Gosiyas).”

Bhikubhai Gosiya, who works with a private firm in Borivli, said, “My wife and daughter have never been to a foreign country. When Baxi asked me to come along, I was interested as all of us were going together, so I agreed.”

The third family, that of advocates Archana and Nayan Jain and their two sons, said, “Due to our tight schedules, we don’t get much time so we thought it was a great idea for the whole family to go and spend quality time together.”

Enter suave agent
Baxi said, “In May-end, through one of the websites, I got to know of Starxholidays Pvt Ltd. After I gave the details of our requirements, I got a call from one Rizwan Khan from the company.” Two weeks later, Khan went to meet Baxi. “He was well-dressed, carrying a laptop and seemed to be below 25 years of age. He gave me all the tour details, showed all the places we’d visit, the hotels we’d stay at and so on. He also gave me a well designed brochure, which had an address and everything. After negotiations, the tour expenses were fixed at Rs 40,000 per person.”

Khan asked for half the total cost before the tour and said he’d collect the remaining afterwards. The families transferred around Rs 6 lakh in all to an ICICI bank account number provided by Khan. The travel agency’s addresses were listed in the documents Rizwan gave them: one of Joshi Colony, IP Ext, Delhi and another of Raj Nagar Ext, Ghaziabad. Baxi said, “Through his tone, he seemed like a pure Delhi-bred guy.”

Khan also said he could help them out with currency exchange. So, the families gave him another Rs 2 lakh to buy Hong Kong and US dollars, which Khan said he’d give them when they met him at the airport.

For his part, to verify the tour bookings, Baxi called up a friend in Hong Kong who confirmed their hotel reservations -- it would later be revealed that only 10% of the tariff had been paid. When Baxi called up Cathay Pacific airline, he got a confirmation for box bookings -- Rizwan said he’d give them confirmed tickets at the Sahar airport in the city.

Bubble bursts
Their flight to Hong Kong was scheduled for the night of last Sunday. The group was excited for the trip. They had gone on a spree prior to the sojourn and the shopping tab for each of them came up to around Rs 1 lakh. The women had been to beauty salons a day before take-off.

Baxi said, “On Sunday afternoon I called up Khan and he told me he was on his way to Virar with the tickets. But when I called him again, his phone was not reachable. I thought we’d miss the flight so we took a taxi to the airport. There, I tried Khan’s phone but it had been switched off. That’s when it struck me that something might be amiss.”

The three families were shattered when they found none of their bookings had been confirmed. There were no hotel reservations either. “It was terrible, no one else should have to go through a fraud like this,” Archana Jain said.

“We were so excited for the trip. It is a heartbreaking feeling,” a young member from the Gosiya family said. “We had been busy preparing for the trip for the whole of last month. We planned so much, and everything has been in vain,” said Nidhi Jain said.

The families will now approach the cyber crime police and lodge a complaint.

Senior Inspector Jadhav of Virar police station said, “A cheating case has been registered. At certain places of meetings between the accused and the complainant, there were CCTV cameras. We have asked for the footage. We are also taking help from the cyber crime cell to know about the website through which the complainants have been cheated.”  

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