I recently had a reader write to me with an upsetting story about a scam in India. Apparently one of his friends, a European woman, had fallen pray to a variation of the very prevalent "gem scam". The scam is widespread in Jaipur and Agra. However, this incident took place in Goa.
What was really shocking was the amount of money that the woman lost (nearly 50,000 euros, which is equal to almost $65,000), and the fact that she was an intelligent professional who saw all the red flags but still fell for the scam.
So, what happened?
The woman was approached by an Indian businessman who asked her to "buy" jewellery from him and post it to Australia, so that he could save on export duty from India. He told her that she didn't actually have to pay for the items, just mail them to Australia, collect them there (she was traveling to Australia) and give them to his contacts. He offered to give her 24,000 euros in return.
Of course, you're probably wondering how it all went so wrong, and how she lost so much money, since she didn't have to pay for the jewellery. This is where it involves an interesting twist. The businessman told her that she was likely to get a call from the Indian Customs Department, who would ask her how she paid for the items but would be satisfied if she could show that her credit card limit was sufficient.
Sure enough, she received a call from the "customs department" the day after she posted the jewellery. However, the person threatened to arrest her if she couldn't show evidence of payment and accused her of stealing the jewellery. When she told the Indian businessman, he confirmed that she was indeed in big trouble, and that she should make the payment to avoid any further problems. He would then return the money to her account after she delivered the jewellery to his contact in Australia. So, she transferred 40,000 euros from her bank account for the jewellery and made a further payment of 8,400 euros with her credit card for "insurance of the parcel".
You can read the rest of the story here. (Update: Unfortunately, my reader has now deleted his blog due to privacy reasons). Needless to say, the jewellery was fake and she never saw her money again. After going to Australia, she's now back in India trying to take action and wondering what she should do.
I've been advised by my reader that the woman did manage to get most of her money back after complaining to the police. If anyone has been a victim of this scam, they should speak to a police officer in Panjim who has at least a 2 Star ranking (there are not many such officers and all should have heard about the case).
The important lesson here is that although you may want to help people in India, it's best to avoid anyone who approaches you -- especially with business deals that seem too good to be true. Since the tourist season is underway in Goa at the moment, it's something to keep in mind.
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