South Mumbai woman dupes 15 of lakhs in US visa fraud
At least 15 people have been duped in the scam by Carmichael Road woman in her early 30s, out of about Rs 5.7 lakh, who claimed to work with the US Consulate in Mumbai
Tina Ajinkya (image sourced from social media)
Sometimes, all it takes is a smart phone to make fools out of people, as Carmichael Road resident Tina Ajinkya has proved, after allegedly duping several citizens into believing that she was running a US visa centre on her mobile phone. All she had to do was ask them to scan their fingerprints on her phone, and the victims readily parted with their cash and passports.
Ajinkya charged the visa applicants Rs 11,200 as 'fees' for her services in helping them to score the much coveted US visa. The victims allege that she raked in at least Rs 5.7 lakh this way. As far as scams go, this may not be the grandest in terms of money, but the brazen modus operandi is what sets this case apart.
The racket came to light after one of the victims filed a statement against Ajinkya at the Gamdevi police station on May 22, a year after the conwoman first came into contact with a group of 15 visa hopefuls. She had allegedly told them that she worked for the US Consulate and that she could get them a 10-year tourist visa to the US.
"She told us to put Rs 11,200 each into her bank account. Ajinkya assured us that she would get us the US visa or the amount would be refunded," recalled one of the victims. "On June 17 last year, Ajinkya said that she had set up an appointment for us at the US Consulate at Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC). All of us had to assemble at a set time outside the Consulate and she was supposed to take us as a group," said another victim.
Tina Ajinkya insists that the US Consulate is refunding the money, although officials denied any such exchange with her
Coffee shop consulate
Panic set in when she did not show up for an hour. When she finally answered their calls, she told them to head to a coffee shop near the Consulate, as she was working from there. None of this seemed suspicious to the victims, however, as they willingly went there and even handed their passports over to her.
Amit P, a victim from Navi Mumbai recalled, "She convinced us that she was working from there. She told us to hand over our passports, and told us to put our hands on her mobile phone to scan our fingerprints."
He added, "She said she was taking our biometric scans, and that her phone was connected to the US consulate server."
"It may seem incredulous now, but it is difficult to describe how convincing she was. You cannot believe her churanpatti (slang for hoodwinking and spiel used to fool people)," added Amit, whose version was corroborated by other victims as well.
Months passed, and the group began calling Ajinkya in panic. It took two-and-a-half months before Ajinkya agreed to return their passports, once the victims made it clear that they were no longer interested in the visa as long as they could have their passports back.
Then began the wild goose for their money, which continues till date, a full year later.
Just this month, Ajinkya told them that the US Consulate had asked her to collect a refund. She even showed them a letter with the United States of America seal and the signature of Heidi Hattenbach, the US Consulate information officer and spokesperson. However, the US Consulate General has said that the letter did not come from them, and Heidi Hattenbach never signed any such letter.
At least one other group of victims has surfaced since then. One of the victims from the second group, Priyanka D, said, "We are awaiting a refund. We are a big group, we have been conned out of a total of R4 lakh. We had received a couple of cheques earlier — at least three – all of which had bounced."
The other side
Tina Ajinkya told this reporter, "I never claimed that I work for the US Consulate. I said I merely assist in getting visas for people. I know I have to return their money. I have already handed over a cheque today (Thursday)."
When told that the letter from Heidi Hattenbach was not 'authentic' and that the US Consulate denied issuing the letter, Ajinkya insisted, "I have the letter, I will show it to you." Ajinkya also denied ever scanning the victims' fingerprints on her phone. "No, I did not do so. That did not happen," she said, adding, "I want to close this chapter as soon as possible. I am a practising lawyer and this messy affair is hurting me."
The US Consulate General in Mumbai's Public Welfare Officer, Victoria Sloan said, "Heidi Hattenbach did not sign the letter in question. Nor did the US Consulate issue the letter. The Consulate actively pursues fraud and welcomes information to aid in its ongoing efforts."
Tips to prevent fraud
- Nearly all first-time visa applicants are required to appear in person for an interview with a consular officer before the visa can be issued. If someone claims otherwise, you are most likely being scammed.
- Under no circumstances will any official from the US Embassy or US Consulate guarantee a visa in advance of an interview. This claim would be a strong indicator of fraud.
- All fees for visas are set by the US government according to the visa classification, and there is no option to pay additional money to expedite or guarantee a visa.
- If an applicant ever receives correspondence with fraud indicators, we recommend following up with the local police to file a complaint and sending a copy of the FIR to the US Consulate
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