The scammers approaching me
It all started that late afternoon. I was sitting alone at that restaurant owned by a Sikh family I used to be going while sojourning in Pushkar, drinking a cup of coffee while waiting for my dinner to get prepared. It was then I noticed a group of four men exiting that new Toyota Corolla car they parked right across the street, and heading straight towards my table in a strongly purposeful manner. Everything about those lads’ demeanor was betraying them being scammers. Though their general behavior was the one of highly sophisticated scammers. So did they enflame my curiosity, and I decided to play their game in a bid to examine them.
The team of the scammers
All the four of them were very well-dressed, wearing expensive-looking watches, rings and bracelets, civil and and well-mannered. They were introduced to me as Kabir, Vir, Nikesh and Kaju, in what I perceived to be just a collection of fake, common Indian names.
Kabir was the muscle of the party, the big guy. Under his elegant clothing and the benign veil covering his countenance, you could discern a man specialized in bullying and oppressing. He merely uttered any word at all. I doubt if he could understand any English either. He was sitting there quiet and serious, pretending to be paying attention in what was said, waiting to play his part in the whole scamming operation in some later stage, and in readiness to interfere in some possible urgent case where physical action would be rendered necessary.
Vir, I took him to be an apprentice. A young, beardless boy, hardly twenty years old. His English was good and he was very eager to speak to me, experimenting his thought-manipulating and persuasive skills, indispensable for his future career as a scammer. He was though quite an amateur still. Easy target to be manipulated himself and fall into mistakes rather. He was very easily losing his concentration. At times I was narrating to them some random, crazy, adventurous story, he seemed to be forgetting all about their business and listening absorbedly to what I said, while the others were anxious to return to their subject quickly. He was the only genuinely gentle person amongst them all. He probably ended up being a scammer out of circumstances alone. And I doubt he’s going to meet success in his life if not changing profession.
Nikesh was the party’s head, the good old experienced scammer. He was about 45 years old, wearing the most expensive-looking watch and the greatest number of rings on his fingers. He could understand and speak perfect English, though his words were counted. For the most part he would sit silent on a stately, serious pose, judging all that was said circumspectly, and only intervening in sparse intervals.
Kaju was basically the one I was mostly having the conversation with. He was the team’s spokesman. His English skills were exquisite and his eloquence like a torrent. He was gradually working on extracting all the information they’d need from me, constructing very subtle wordings for his questions, and bringing them forth in an elaborate, unsuspicious manner. While he’d also have an answer for any question lying right underneath his tongue.
Our first talk
During that first, introductory meeting of us, our talk was mainly focused around two interweaving topics:
Presenting themselves as successful businessmen and trustworthy men:
They claimed to be coming from Gujarat. They work for a grand multinational company, of whose activities they gave me yet no account, but were taking pleasure using the word “company” frequently, pronounced with great pomposity. They are often sent to business trips in various European and Asian countries, as well as within India. At that moment they were bound for one of those trips. They would stay for a few days there in Pushkar, where the company pays for them a room for 8.800 INR per night – Here I think they should be a bit more modest, too exaggerated. Come on! In Pushkar!? Where the f…? Thereafter they’d continue their trip to Himachal Pradesh (that they let me know after I made them aware of my next destination being exactly there), stopping by for a while in New Delhi. They were traveling with two cars, and they offered to give me a ride.
And, of course, extracting information from me:
Where I am from. What do I do in India. What’s my work. Whether I travel alone. How long I am and will be in India. Whether I use a travel guide (thus being informed about common scams). And so on…
As my intention was to play the game, I was premeditatedly giving them the exact answers they wanted to hear: I just arrived in India two days ago, first time. I never use travel guides when I travel. I have an online job making really good money… While I was striving my best to appear friendly and naive. The game was on!
The jewelry scam
That evening we exchanged numbers and agreed to meet the next day for lunch. Midday next day I met all the team again at the same place we were yesterday. I was thinking we were to have lunch at the same place, but they rather suggested I join them in the car and we drive somewhere outside the town. They obviously wanted to be in a more quiet place, so to talk of whatever they had in mind undistracted and also be in position to run away unnoticed in case I’d be aware of their scam. We drove a few km and stopped at a remote and empty garden-restaurant by the side of the main road.
Soon they started to give me the particulars about their alleged company. It was exposed as a giant in the jewelry trade industry, exporting great masses of pricey jewelry from India and employing hundreds of people worldwide.
And soon came also the business proposal. I would – lucky me – become one of their hundreds associates, helping them to export jewelry to Europe by evading taxes, and making quite a fortune for myself.
Me, in the negotiations that followed, I tried to keep a good balance between not making it excessively easy for them – which would give rise to suspicions – and not making it too hard either. I asked them, for example, how me, in particular, I could help them with tax evasion. They said that foreigners are allowed to post tax-free an amount of jewels up to a certain limit once every some period. Quite idiotic explanations they had in general, but I yielded to it all – If I was to press any further they would surely lose any sense of coherence and the game would be over.
So we soon had an agreement. We’d leave together early next morning to Delhi. We’d go there together to the post office. I would not need to pay anything at all myself, but I’d only post the parcel on my name to Sweden. Then they would lead me to a deluxe hotel room, which the company will pay for. I will wait there till the parcel is delivered, I will get my money for the service, and I may go and have fun with it.
They also said that the amount of jewelry I will be able to send will depend on the amount of money I have in my bank account. They justified that by claiming that in case of custom control I must be able to prove that I have paid for it myself, and I will do so by presenting the balance of my bank account. But actually they needed to know that so to be precise in the amount of money they would try to force me giving them thereafter. I judged 50.000 € to be a highly enticing yet unsuspiciously moderate bait. Their eyes twinkled.
What I didn’t yet know, was in what exact way they were going to try to get that money from me. That I learned soon after I left them that day. It turned out it actually was a very common scam. A “indian jewelry scam” google search made me aware of it. Among many others, this and this articles were very illustrative. The main idea is that: soon after the postage I would receive a call supposedly from the police. The voice would try to convince me that I am accused of smuggling and if I don’t fancy ending up in an Indian slammer, I would have to pay a fine – coincidentally equal to the amount of money I have in my bank account. Then, my “partners” would try to keep me trapped in that hotel room and, by either persuasion or intimidation, make me pay that money.
And how it went in on
The time we had set our appointment to leave to Delhi on the next day was a very early one. So I was rather busy in my bed attending the last episodes of that night’s dreams. When I finally woke up I had more than ten missed calls from them.
I called them back right away:
“What the hell man! Where are you? Why didn’t you show up? And why don’t you answer the phone?
And I was like:
“I am so sorry guys! I feel so embarrassed about it. You will not believe what happened. Let’s meet for lunch and I’ll explain everything.”
So we soon meet:
“Look man, I really do count on our partnership. You offered me a rare opportunity and I am so grateful for it. I really do believe we, together, are going to do big business in the future. But, foremost, before anything else, I do deem you guys as my friends. So I’ll need to be honest with you. You see, the money I told you yesterday I have in my bank account… I don’t have it.
That I just found out this very morning. My boss was supposed to pay me that 50.000 he owes me three days ago. He’s a credible man. I work for him many years already, he had never so far let me down. I was sure the money was inside when we were talking yesterday. And then, just before I was ready to come to find you today, I check my balance… it was empty! So I’m basically broke for the moment.
I called him right off. He apologized and explained he’s having some technical issues with his payments software. The technicians are working on it right now. He promised he will pay me after three days the latest. And he sure will! I tell you, he’s a man of solid character.
So, my friends, if I didn’t already lose your trust, and you still can think of me as a worthy partner of your company, let us just postpone the whole thing for a few days.
Also, another thing, I was yesterday talking with a friend of mine in Europe about our imminent enterprise. And he told me that he’s also keenly interested to invest in it. He said he can send me another 20-30.000, so we can raise the ware even more.”
And damn! They fell for all that nonsense!
They explained they “totally understand”, “these things happen” and so on… We agreed to proceed in with our business after three days as normal. They also offered, in an act presented as one of magnanimity, to help me out these days with my economic difficulties.
For the next three days I was meeting them twice a day for lunch and dinner. They took me to some very nice restaurants, where I had generous meals and drinks without sparing a dime myself.
On top of that, the first day, they also offered to lend me some cash for my expanses. I reacted to their offer as: “No, guys, please. You have already done so much for me. I really cannot accept that… Ok, if you insist so much.”
They also pressed me a great deal to quit my room in the town, and have me moved to a better room paid by the company. But this I rejected categorically as “I have already paid for it anyway”, “I’m already indebted enough to you”, “that would harm my pride”… I could surely have gotten some free, more comfortable accommodation for myself, but I wouldn’t like to have them messing around with me the whole day and make it troublesome in any degree to get rid of them later. It was good where I was staying in the centre of the town where they couldn’t offer to drive me home, and I could easily make sure they don’t follow me after our meetings.
And how it all ended
Last evening before our supposed departure to Delhi, half an hour before I meet them for our last dinner in Pushkar, I give Kaju a call:
“Hey man, I just called to tell you that I will not manage to meet you for dinner tonight. Some urgent work turned up and I’ll need to finish it tonight, before we leave tomorrow.”
“Aha… but we are going tomorrow morning, right?”
“Yes, yes, of course we are. I just received my payment an hour ago. And I got a bonus for the delay as well!”
“Ok, that’s very good my friend! Very good!”
“And that friend of mine, I told you about. He has another 30.000 to invest. He told me he can transfer me the money tomorrow morning, express. I will have them before we arrive in Delhi.”
“That’s also great my friend! Excellent!”
“But, you know, there is that one thing… Me, I know you… But my friend has never seen you before, so he is a bit reserved about it…”
“Oh, I see. But you will have his money in your account. That’s just in case of a custom control, remember? There is no money you’ll need to pay. You can assure him that all is fine.”
“Yeah, yeah, I tried to. But he’s very skeptical, you know… He actually asked me to send him a link to your company’s website, so he can take a look by himself.”
There was a pause.
“Your company is big. It must have a website, right?”
“Yes, yes, of course it has. We’ll send it to you.”
“Good, and I’ll send it to him then… And he also asked me if you can give us a link to that relevant law you spoke about. The one about foreigners exporting tax-free.”
“What thing? I cannot find something such.”
“How not? You said there is an Indian law stating so and so. There must be some resource or another where the Indian law is published, no?”
He started losing his calm…
“No! There is no Indian law!”
– That was the highlight! “THERE IS NO INDIAN LAW” WTF? –
“Ok, ok, leave that then. But he also asked me for one last thing. He wants you to send us a copy of your passport, each one of you. Just to be sure, you know.”
His temper rocketed to the outer space…
“What are you talking about, my friend! We cannot send you copies of our passports. How we know what you are going to do with them? This is not serious. Tell to your friend: If he wants to trust us, good. If not, bad for him. We can do this alone, you and us, without him.”
“Yes, we sure could. But now you say like that I become skeptical as well. I mean, what’s so great a deal to show us a copy of your passport? Like what do you think we could do with that? Saying so you make me lose my trust in you. I thought you for reputable entrepreneurs. Are you maybe some of those dirty scammers?”
Beep Beep Beep…
I didn’t hear of them again.