Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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As revealed by one of the victims, the red-outlined area by Khuman Lampak's main stadium marks the daily rendezvous point for fraudsters, where they initiate their deceitful tactics by reaching out to friends and acquaintances.

In Shadow of Manipur’s Strife, Suited Fraudsters Entice People With Golden Deceptions

As Manipur faces widespread violence, leaving many unemployed and paralyzing businesses, an added affliction haunts its citizens. With the government’s internet blackout, cunning fraudsters are seizing the moment. They lure desperate Manipuris to Delhi with the promise of lucrative jobs, boasting earnings of over two lakhs a month. However, once trapped, victims discover the true nature of the ‘job’: to entrap their friends, and acquaintances  in the same deceitful scheme.

This article provides an in-depth look into the scam, with firsthand accounts from two victims and another individual who narrowly escaped becoming one. They detail the mechanics of the scam and their experiences of being enticed into the deceptive ‘job.’

Robert (name changed as the victim prefers anonymity), the victim, shared his harrowing experience with the scam, revealing a loss of ₹1.4 lakh. He was lured into the trap by a trusted friend during a vulnerable period when his business faltered, and his savings dwindled, exacerbated by the ongoing crisis in Manipur.

When asked about his choice to remain anonymous and not confront his friend publicly, Robert revealed that he had been bound by a legal agreement upon joining. After uncovering the true nature of the company’s operations, he attempted to challenge his friend but was met with threats of legal repercussions should he disclose any details to the police, individuals, or on social platforms.

With teary eyes, the victim shared, “I mortgaged my mother’s jewellery, and now I can’t repay her. I also invested 60,000 from my savings to secure the job. Considering legal action seems unfeasible, I simply don’t have the funds to cover legal fees. The shame of trusting that friend weighs on me deeply.” He fervently expressed his hope that no other Manipuri would become ensnared in such a deceit.

Describing the intricate web of deceit, he found himself ensnared in, he stressed the critical importance of remaining vigilant and discerning in the face of suspicious offers. Speaking candidly, he detailed the sequence of events leading to his involvement in the so-called ‘work’ and provided insights on the warning signs, hoping that others would sidestep similar overtures in the future.

“I first crossed paths with this friend during a videography project in the Singjamei area in Imphal. He exuded a calm and humble demeanor. After collaborating for about a year, I departed the organization due to personal circumstances. He moved on a few months after I did,” Robert shared. Although they mostly lost touch, they occasionally exchanged messages on Facebook and WhatsApp.

“He frequently shared photos from his lavish life in Delhi: flaunting high-end watches, shopping sprees at upscale malls, enjoying movies from gold class seats, and even a trip to Bangkok,” the victim continued. Despite growing envy of his friend’s luxurious lifestyle, he never inquired about his friend’s profession or earnings.

Around 15 days into the Manipur violence and subsequent internet restrictions in Manipur, Robert found himself unemployed. The recurring curfews and intensifying conflicts rendered him without any income. It was during this dire period that his friend, who he had worked with, reached out to Robert, expressing concern about the prevailing conditions in Manipur and Robert’s well-being, ostensibly offering assistance.

Robert recalled, “I inquired if there were any job openings at his company. He replied in the negative but mentioned that he’d vouch for me if something came up.” Much to Robert’s surprise, just two days later, the same friend informed him that he’d been shortlisted for a telephonic interview.

“It felt genuine,” said Robert, adding that the preliminary interview was conducted at a swanky hotel in Chingmeirong. The questions posed were fairly standard, focused on business concepts. “They quizzed me on the distinction between assets and liabilities and gauged my business acumen. By the end, they assured me of feedback within 24 hours.”

True to their word, Robert was informed of his selection a day later, with a subsequent round of interviews slated to clarify the nature of his role and to address any reservations he might harbor.

When Robert sought details about the company and its operations, the respondent was evasive. They didn’t possess a traditional office setup, functioning virtually. On further pressing about the company’s identity, the respondent cryptically mentioned, “Consider it a multilateral venture. Say, if we partnered with Apple Inc., our role would be to facilitate their market growth. We don’t align with just one brand.”

Robert was caught off guard. Having initially been assured of a position in the organization with no financial strings attached, he soon realized the underlying deceit. The friend who had vouched for him, and the interviewers had failed to mention any financial commitment. However, this soon changed.

In a follow-up discussion, Robert was informed that he had to make an upfront payment. The reason? An array of charges: from purchasing distribution rights and establishing a virtual office, which they claimed was designed by Microsoft, to setting up an international payment gateway purportedly under the watchful eyes of India’s IT Department. The funds would also cover documentation, training, and registration.

Feeling cornered, Robert recalls, “I was given a mere ten days to arrange the funds. My friend attempted to pacify my apprehensions, assuring me that I’d recoup the amount in a couple of months and then would be on the path to prosperity.” Vulnerable and trusting, Robert took a heart-wrenching step. “I turned to my mother, even contemplating pawning her jewelry. My own savings too were depleted in the process.”

Post his commitment, Robert was provided with digital resources — five business-related e-books. Due to financial constraints preventing him from traveling to Delhi for training, alternatives were arranged. “They trained me over the phone and occasionally online when the internet was accessible,” he states.

However, what followed was not traditional job training. Robert details, “It wasn’t about conventional job tasks. Instead, it was grooming me on how to strategically approach friends and acquaintances, hinting at my ‘successful earnings’ but keeping them in suspense, prompting them to inquire further.” The objective? To attract more unsuspecting individuals into this elaborate scheme.

Robert’s experience grew increasingly bizarre. “Our meetings weren’t held in formal offices. Instead, we congregated at places they termed ‘Point of Attraction (POA),’ like a roundabout near Khuman Lampak stadium.” He remembers being directed to compile a list of 500 contacts, primarily friends and relatives, and then engage them in conversation, leading them into the scam’s snare.

His narrative takes an even darker turn, describing the events at the MG Avenue hotel. “It seemed genuine at first glance. The upscale venue, the well-dressed attendees, the ambiance – everything radiated legitimacy.” But a subsequent gathering at Khuman Lampak shattered this illusion. “There, the charade was exposed. Individuals, donning suits, were cold-calling acquaintances, luring them into the scam.”

Robert’s moral compass compelled him to step back. Yet, attempts to salvage his funds proved futile. “When I confronted my ‘friend,’ not only did he rebuff my claims, he threatened me with the might of the company’s vast resources, insinuating they’d financially and legally crush me if I resisted.”

Left with no alternatives and wary of being further embroiled in this web, Robert made a humble choice – to drive a water tanker, seeking an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work.

Devika (name changed), an aspiring UPSC candidate from a remote part of Imphal, narrowly sidestepped a treacherous snare. Previously colleagues with Robert and the fraudster during the COVID-19 phase, her preparation was hindered by the government’s internet ban, a result of communal tensions. With limited connectivity in her area, she often trekked to her sister’s home 3 km away for internet access.

Eager to move to Delhi for better preparation but constrained by financial limitations, she was contacted by the same fraudster. He was her erstwhile friend. Devika, Robert and the fraudster are friends. Offering her a seemingly perfect solution, he mentioned a job opening and proposed her name. After an online interview, wherein she was assured of no monetary requirements, she seemed set on this new path.

However, a serendipitous WhatsApp status and a subsequent conversation with Robert unveiled the deceitful underpinnings of the ‘job’. Robert, recognizing the signs, swiftly alerted Devika about the scam. When confronted, Devika diplomatically told the fraudster about her intent to focus solely on her exams, effectively evading the trap. She reflects, “Without that timely chat with Robert, I might’ve lost not just money, but much more.”

Dinachandra, pseudonymously named to preserve his anonymity, fell prey to this sinister web of deception that promised lucrative returns. Unlike Robert, Dinachandra’s induction into the scheme occurred virtually via Google Meet, thanks to an accessible broadband connection. It was a seemingly trustworthy Facebook acquaintance who roped him into this venture.

Dwelling in Noida, this fraudster reassured Dinachandra that not only was there no initial investment required, but the entire business setup would also unfold online. Trusting her words, Dinachandra transferred a substantial sum of ₹2.6 lakhs on July 16.

The facade of the venture was made attractive by the fraudster’s eloquent portrayal of it as a risk-free, zero-investment business. They painted a picture where Dinachandra would act as a mediator in B2B and B2C transactions. Tempted further by the ostentatious claims of earning up to ₹5.65 crore annually and reaching senior positions swiftly, he was convinced.

However, the allure began to wane once Dinachandra reached Delhi for training. Instead of a professional setup, training sessions were clandestinely organized in cafes, particularly at Noida’s Advant Navis Business Park, likely to avoid any scrutiny. The curriculum? Networking skills and tactics to ensnare more individuals. Such sessions saw large turnouts, with attendees not just from Manipur but also from neighboring states.

One particularly unsettling assembly at a location they coined as ‘Point of Attraction’ near a business park mirrored the earlier account at Khuman Lampak in Imphal. Here, the modus operandi became evident: list and cold-call potential victims to further propagate the scam. Disillusioned by the reality, Dinachandra decided to return to Manipur, now gearing up for a legal confrontation with the perpetrators.

The aftermath for newcomers in this scheme involved shared accommodation, costing them about ₹2000 monthly. As their deceptive endeavors bore fruit, their lifestyles elevated. This conspicuous display of affluence, ranging from new apartments to luxury items, was paraded every Sunday at an event termed the “Sunday System.” For an entry fee, attendees would witness presentations by seasoned scammers flaunting their success, aiming to motivate and indoctrinate their newer counterparts.

According to the testimonies of the victims, there exists a sizable network of over 500 fraudsters operating within Manipur, and a similar number are active in the Noida region of Delhi NCR. The elusive nature of these scammers, characterized by their reluctance to disclose their company’s name or office location, makes it challenging for potential victims to discern the trap. A word of caution: if an acquaintance, despite lacking significant qualifications or discernible skills, flaunts an opulent lifestyle on social media — showcasing luxury outings, extravagant purchases, or high-end residences — it might be an orchestrated attempt to draw you into their deceptive web.

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