By Debdutta Ghosh
Some time at the end of June, Delhi resident Puneet Agarwal, the nephew of Delhi Assembly Speaker Ram Niwas Goel put up a plea for plasma for treatment of Covid-19 for a close relative on his social media page.
Blood plasma from an individual who has recovered from Covid-19 contains vital antibodies against the disease and treatment of many Covid-19 patients with such plasma has proven to be effective. Therefore blood plasma from Covid-19 recovered patients is in high demand in many parts of India.
Soon after, a call from an individual who introduced himself to be a doctor from a well known hospital in the city was received by Agarwal. The man committed to donating his plasma since he had recently recovered from Covid-19 against a payment. But as soon as the money was digitally transferred by Agarwal, the individual went into incommunicado.
Later the police arrested the accused following a complaint from Agarwal. The accused was identified as Abdul Karim Rana.
“During interrogation, he confessed to having cheated many people desperate for plasma,” a police officer told the media.
These types of fraudsters are having a gala time with the rise in the cases of Covid-19 in Delhi and elsewhere in India as they take advantage of the helplessness of the panic-stricken people who themselves are infected by the disease or have close relatives and friends struggling to get treated.
“Everyone needs to be cautious. Any posts on social media to seek help might attract criminals or fraudsters to earn easy money. Better to take help from someone known,” cautioned the spokesperson of Delhi Police.
The pandemic is being taken advantage of by thugs. Five persons were arrested recently who were trying to smuggle 21,000 packets of fake blood plasma from Punjab to a firm in Mumbai, Maharashrta.
And then there are thugs who take advantage of people’s blind belief in occult and rituals that arguably can cure novel coronavirus infections and disinfect homes with ‘pujas’ or religious offerings. There have been instances of families being duped by such scammers, some of whom even present themselves to be tech-savvy, English-speaking people. Even well-educated people have got duped at their hands once advanced payment for such occult rituals are transferred digitally through payment wallets.
Then there are the usual thugs who offer fake virus tests, mystery potions and pills to cure Covid-19, milking the opportunity created by the pandemic. While some offer mystery nasal drops for people exhibiting symptoms of the virus infection, others offer Covid-19 testing facilities at clinics where the tests are usually done by quacks.
A number of such quacks and fraudulent medical practitioners have been identified by the Delhi Medical Council (DMC).
According to Dr. Arun Gupta, the President of DMC, people are being duped because of their faith and belief in such practices. He stressed that such activities will co-exist till such time that there is a hypothesis about any medicine or treatment for the disease. It is therefore important that during a pandemic such as this, institutional quackery is strictly controlled.
And then there are the threats of fraud online.
According to a recent report by KPMG India, the pandemic has caused a rise in the incidents of fraud preying on the vulnerable individuals and organizations, trying to exploit this dreadful humanitarian crisis. Hence experts preparing the report have urged individuals and organizations to be vigilant and build robust mechanisms so that it is possible to reduce incident of fraud.
With the near halt to economic activities because of restrictions imposed to reduce spread of the pandemic, consumer markets have been significantly impacted. Profitability and cash flows of several organizations in the sector have been squeezed because of a drastic drop in demand for non-essential products and disruptions in raw material supplies. Hat has resulted in salary cuts and job losses which have consequently reduced the purchasing power of consumers amid the pandemic.
And it is amid this environment that opportunities for organised criminals to defraud consumers and organizations have cropped up in this sector.
The report highlights frauds related to the misuse of schemes, unnaturally inflating price by hoarding essential products, and the sale of damaged, expired or counterfeit products because of shortages of essential products that can be faced by consumers.
The report also highlights fraud through fake online websites and social media accounts where consumers may be lured to make an advanced payment for products. But consumers are most likely to get any of the products purchased as they are will most likely never be delivered.
There can also be incidents of increased cyber frauds as more people have started to work from home and are engaged in augmented digital transactions because of the temporary shutting down of brick-and-mortar outlets.
Experts have also noticed an increase in the offering of Covid-19 related products, templates, and hoaxes on deep and dark web markets, the report also noted. These thug sellers on the web are takin advantage of the public fear of the disease and are offering products that are claimed to serve as tests or vaccines for the disease.
Experts have also warranted cautioned against possible incidents of fraud related to helping out small companies to take advantage of the Rs 20 lakh crore benefits that has been announced by the Indian government. These beneficial schemes to help small businesses, which include schemes such as interest/EMI waive-off for MSMEs, microloan for unorganised vendors, a moratorium of EMI for various loans up to 6-months, could be the target of these frauds. Thugs and bogus agents could loot money from companies eager to seek these benefits against a payment and never get the work done with such small companies and firms never getting the promised benefits.
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