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Economic Fraud





He was old and lonely. Even living in a one-bedroom flat in Kurla, a Mumbai suburb,was proving to be a pain for him.

“Why does it feel so huge,” he would often wonder.

His flat appeared to him like a huge haunted haveli in which he was lost. This had never happened to Ramesh Gaikwad in the sixty-two years of his existence on the earth. He retired two years back from the state transport office in Matunga, where he was a clerk. His wife Geeta passed away a year back due to cancer. They were married for a good thirty years. Memories of the early happy marital life would often claw back into his weary eyes. Life had always been kind and generous to him but prepared him little for his old age solitude.

“Come on, Baba. Sixty is the new forty. Live life,” his 24-year-old and only son would often say.

Shanu was an ambitious and hard-working young man who worked as a software engineerin a local firm. He had always aspired to achieve great success in his field and eventually work in the Silicon Valley – the mecca of software world – in the United States of America. He had made several attempts in the past to get a job in the USA. But after the death of his mother, his active search for such opportunities waned. In fact, they completely stopped as he didn’t want to leave his father in the pursuit of his dreams.

Although he was quite frank with his father and there existed a healthy camaraderie between the two, Shanu could never share with his father the developments in his personal life, for example, that he was dating his office colleague Payal since the past two years. Perhaps, he didn’t want to trouble the already forlorn man. The fact is he never discussed these things with Ramesh. Something always prevented him from doing that, although he really cared deeply for his father.

But the dream of foreign lands never left him and got somewhere temporarily tucked away in some remote corner of his subconscious.

Until, one day.

It was a usual Friday. His colleagues were in a good mood and everyone seemed to look forward to the weekend.

“Nice shirt, Shanu,” remarked his boss in the morning.

A festive feeling was palpable in the atmosphere. Shanu had already made plans to catch a movie with his girlfriend in the evening.

Around 2.30 pm, a little after lunch, Shanu settled into his seat nicely.

“Man, I shouldn’t eat so much. It makes me so damn drowsy,” he resolved for the millionth time in his life. Overall, Shanu felt satisfied and happy.

“Why don’t they have couches in the office? A little half an hour nap can surely not do any great harm to the company. They never think of providing comfort to their employees,” thought the software engineer.

For at least an hour after lunch, Shanu’s mind was particularly prone to such thoughts, when he felt sleepy and tired.

About a couple of minutes later, he suddenly noticed an email from his current boss Banerjee – he rarely got mails from him. He always liked to speak directly. The mail which had “Amazing Opportunity” as its subject, sought his interest in a project based in the US that he was required to head although he had never worked independently. Into the second line of the mail, Shanu was wide awake and his mind was running at the speed of light.

“Damn! This is a big deal! This is a promotion.”

The project required him to relocate to Silicon Valley, San Francisco for at least a period of two years. Besides the exposure, the assignment offered him an official promotion in terms of designation as well as a salary hike.

However, the reality of his family circumstances soon dawned on him and he felt grounded.

About half an hour later, he was summoned by a beaming Banerjee.

“Hey, young man! You’ve cracked it. Very few people get such opportunities. Don’t let it go. Take a couple of days’ time and let me know what you think. In case, you refuse, I will ask someone else. Such golden opportunities don’t come often.”

Shanu smiled faintly and nodded that he would get back within a few days.

“This would be very good for your career,” he had said.

“Sir, there are family issues. I will surely get back to you on this in a few days.”

“Don’t take long, young man!”

Mentally, Shanu had dismissed the idea.

In the tea break, he broached the subject with his girlfriend Payal in the canteen. However, much to his shock, Payal outrightly rejected the idea.

“I don’t believe in long distance relationships, Man. How can you even think of it?”

“But I do. I believe such relationships can exist and many couples do that in the world today. Look at Reena, our office receptionist. Isn’t she carrying out a long distance? Secondly, I haven’t yet made up my mind. I anyway can’t go due to domestic circumstances and you know them very well. But I am still surprised. I had always thought you would be supportive.”

“Well, you were mistaken.”

The acrimony in the evening was enough to break up the two-year long relationship and the evening outing never happened.

Shanu went to the cinema alone – he particularly didn’t want to go home early with a troubled mind.

The next morning, Shanu decided to blurt it out to his father, just to lighten his own heart and mind. The response was rather the opposite of what he had expected.

“So, you want to stick to my side and ruin your career?” said the visibly shocked man, who had always prided self-respect more than anything in life.

“Don’t you want me to die in peace?”

Shanu couldn’t say anything. He was ill-prepared for this line of questioning.

“But how can I leave you all alone, Baba? Even Ma has is not there,” he stammered with some difficulty.

“Beta, you must pursue your dreams. Don’t think about me. I will manage. But this opportunity will never come back,” the old but upright old man continued.

That emotional outburst sealed the discussion.

The next month, pushed by his father, Shanu left for the USA and the realization of his childhood dream.

“I will call you every day and night too, Baba. Take good care of your health,” Shanu had said while bidding farewell to his Ramesh. The duo cried for a long time at the airport.


Once in the Silicon Valley, initially, Shanu did keep his commitment of calling every day. Ramesh never felt the distance. It seemed as if his son were sitting in the next room. They would talk for hours. Much more than they ever talked when Shanu was there. A newfound confidence and camaraderie was taking place. They also started joking with each other much more frequently than before.

“Baba. You seriously need a wife, the young man would laugh with his old man.

The earnest son regularly kept a tab on his father’s health and his general well-being during the early days.

But he soon got busy with setting up his new life – a new start always takes out that much more out of you. Taking up an accommodation, arranging household things for his new flat, understanding the client and the project – there were a million things to do.

The calls first became once in two days and then later became completely erratic as he kept getting increasingly busy with his corporate life and his newly acquired life style. He made a lot of new friends, most of whom are Indian bachelors living there for work or study. The evenings were mostly spent socializing with them. The calls to his father suddenly started a downward spiral in his list of priorities.

We often fail to appreciate the reality which is not in front of us. The same thing was happening. The physical distance was translating into emotional distance, even in this age when technology has made communication so simple. Everyone is just a click away. But that click has to be made.

But Ramesh didn’t complain.

“I must let him live his life. Maybe it is time for me to leave also for my heavenly abode,” he would often wonder.

However, he was soon started feeling lonely and desolate. And the solitude made him restless. He wanted to talk to a human being, share his thoughts and feelings – something so important in this stage of life.

In the beginning, the maid was a great support. The two would talk for hours while she did her work. But even she stopped coming.

“Baba, I am going to my gaon for a few months,” said Shanti, a native of a village in Jharkhand.

Due to the increasingly diminishing contact with Shanu, Ramesh soon started slipping into depression borne out of loneliness. But he was a gritty man and he tried to fight it in several ways. He started mixing with people in the locality, but everybody had their own problems in life and their own groups to discuss them – when and how human beings became so group-oriented in history is a mystery that science should try and solve.

The local vegetable vendor became friendly. But Ramesh was also suspicious of peopleand that was not without reason. Every other day, he would read in the local newspaper reports of the elderly getting robbed, duped or murdered.

“Who knows what is there in whose mind?”

However, after a few days, he started noticing that even he stopped talking to him and would often be busy with his phone.

“Arey, what keeps you glued to your phone, Bhola? These days you don’t even talk to people,” Ramesh would complain.

“You know, Baba. The Internet and Google are the new gods. There are so many things to do on it that I don’t remember talking to you. You must excuse me for that.” “By the way, why don’t you get a WiFi installed in your house? This will keep you busy the whole day and you won’t feel the separation from your son,” he suggested.

“You should mind your own business,he replied cryptically. “But what is there? Show me, at least,” said Ramesh.

That day Ramesh sat by the side of the vegetable vendor for a straight four hours and only got up when his companion decided to wind up the shop and go for his lunch and the subsequent afternoon siesta. Bhola told him about the many things that he could surf.

The medium and technology were truly magnetic. They sucked the lonely man in. He was sold. He got the WiFi fixed and bought a phone that was Internet friendly. The vegetable vendor told him about YouTube and Facebook and Google and even helped him open accounts on them.

With the Wi-Fi connection recharged and the device refurbished, Ramesh soon gets addicted to his phone and the Internet. The absence of people, with whom he could relate and communicate with, pushed aided this addiction.

At first, Ramesh was mesmerized by Youtube and the constantly streaming videos. Google was also interesting for him. He would get most of his news from that. His newspaper reading reduced from a good two to three hours to half an hour. The internet was replacing a lot of things in his lifestyle.

One day, in The Times of India, he read a real life story about how a middle aged widower man fell in love with a girl on Facebook and went on to marry her. The story immediately got Ramesh hooked and rejuvenated his interest in one of the world’s most visited sites. Fed up with his own loneliness and inspired by the romantic story, he decides to find love online.

Again Bhola, the vendor friend, helped himset up his account on the social media site.

“Baba, you will need some decent pictures to get started. You know some really cool ones,” suggested Bhola, who used to trawl the website for hours every day.

For the first time after many years, Ramesh visited a local garments shop and bought some fancy clothes. He was again helped by his friend Bhola. They together observed how the youth of the day dressed and then decided what would suit the greying man. He bought fashionable clothes and accessories.

After the make-over was complete, Ramesh visited a photographer and got himself clicked in a studio. He specifically instructed the photographer to bring out his urban and modern side. A whopping 56 pictures were clicked, in all kinds of poses – well, the photographer didn’t want such a lucrative opportunity to pass by. Photos in a few different colored hats, T-Shirts, jackets, sun glasses, jeans, etc. with the subject strolling on a beach or a taking a walk in the street. The make-over was final and complete. Bhola also suggested that Ramesh get his ears pierced and his hand tattooed as these things were in and considered cool but that was a bit too much even for the aspiring lover.

After the initial rounds of preparations were over, Ramesh started trawling the Internet and Facebook in particular with a tenacity that was unbelievable. He was completely addicted. From morning till late at night he was hooked. His appetite vanished. Food and exercise became secondary. He was a man possessed.

Rani, his maid, found the transformation, absolutely incredulous. She had been with the family for the past 20 years.

“Arey baba, your health is suffering so much. You don’t pay attention to your food and sleep. What is this? Do you want to kill yourself with all this work? By the way, what exactly do you keep on doing on the phone? Tell me something also.”

“You won’t understand, Rani. It is something very deep,” the old man would mumble without lifting his eyes from his phone even once. His desire to find lovewas so over powering that he cared about nothing in the world except the virtual world. He ate, drank and slept Facebook. He couldn’t bear to be away from his phone even for a second. In fact, the situation comes to a point when a Wi-Fi outage for a few minutes would give him panic attacks. The madness grew with every passing day. The internet was like oxygen to him.

For a few days, Ramesh tried to befriend a few women on Facebook but he could not catch any fish.

Hi! There!

He received this message on a Tuesday.

Hey. How is going? replied Ramesh. He was still somewhat short on grammar.

All cool. Really wanted to compliment on your profile picture. You look great. J

Oh, really. Thanks for the compliment. Just saw your pic too. It is the damn sexy.

Ramesh was going all out to ensure that he didn’t miss this opportunity. He had a gleeful smile on his face, something like a child who gets its favorite toy. His hands trembled as he typed his responses. He was beside himself with joy that he finally got a female interested in him.

That was how the online friendship started between the lonely old man and Nisha, a 25 year old girl from Nagpur. They chatted on subjects as diverse as cooking, corona virus, and sex. They joined similar groups and were particularly active in a group that discussed Ramesh’s lifelong passion of music, particularly Indian classical music. They would chat continuously, day and night. Their usual goodbyes would take place somewhere around 4 am, just after the local newspaperwala had arrived. Ramesh would saunter to him, chat with him a little, have his coffee before he came back and crashed on his bed. The virtual relationship grew by leaps and bounds within a short span of time. It was the first thing after waking up and the last thing before going to bed.

Life was rosy for him. He felt like going out into the street and start dancing in a park, he would get so excited. But he was also superstitious. He felt his happiness may not go down well with some people and they may cast an evil spell. He therefore kept the entire secret to himself, although there were very few people that he could have actually shared his juvenile pursuits with. He obviously could talk about it to his son, whose calls were becoming even more erratic. He knew Shanu would find all this infatuation childish and make him feel awkward.

A few weeks later, on a Monday, Ramesh was again having withdrawal pangs after the Wi-Fi had been down for more than half hour. He must have called his vendor not less than six or seven times, wanting to know when the systems would be back.

He kept a bottle of water at his side that he kept sipping from, while keeping his eyes on the phone. He went to the loo for a leak. Ramesh sometimes even toyed with the idea of getting a catheter attached so he didn’t have to run to the bathroom so frequently.

“That’s a real good idea. Unlimited Internet and the freedom to do anything with it. What else can one want?”

By the time he got back from the washroom, there was a message waiting for him from Nisha.

Hey. Really wanted to discuss something with you but not sure how to say it. But I think I can as you are really turning out to be a great friend.

Sure, tell me, replied Ramesh.

I am feeling very low today.

Why? What happened?

I never wanted to tell you but I just can’t see my mother in such pain. I really feel for her. Her cancer is taking a toll on me as well. I wish I could do something to alleviate her pain.

Oh, didn’t know that. I feel really sorry for you. I hope she is getting good treatment.

I wish I could get her good treatment. But there she is, lying all alone. I kept her in the hospital for a couple of months. Just got her back from hospital today. Her bills are so expensive, I had to sell my house and shift to a small rented room. But now I don’t have any money left to continue her treatment. I feel so bad for her.

That is very sad. I wish I could help you. Can I?

No, no. it is okay. How can I accept such help from a stranger?

Come on, we are no more strangers now. Tell me please how much is to be paid?

R u sure? I really don’t want to do this and take you through all the trouble.

No, no. It’s fine. A friend in need is a friend indeed.

That was the first time that Ramesh sent money to Nisha, his Facebook friend. It was a sum of twenty thousand rupees.

Ramesh soon mustered the courage to confesshis love for Nisha. It was reciprocated.

The feeling is mutual, said Nisha with a heart shaped emoji at the end of her Facebook message.

On the other hand, slowly but steadily the sums also grew and soon the amount swelled to more than a couple of lakhs. It started taking a toll on the old man’s financials. The money remitted by his son was good but not enough to sustain the continuous drain. His food habits went for a complete toss. He hardly ate, neither did he have the appetite. A man in love can be literally blind.

All communication was text based. Nisha told Ramesh that she was not allowed to keep a phone and that texting was the only way to sustain the relationship. Ramesh tried to meet Nisha several times but there was always something or the other that kept her occupied. He even offered to come down to Nagpur to meet her but she always restrained him, citing family problems. He even asked for her number but she turned down his offer, saying that the phone is always with her father.

The narratives of medical help soon turned to those of domestic oppression and how she is the sole bread winner of the family and that her father being retired was unable to provide for them. The accounts of financial bankruptcy and dire straits moved Ramesh so much that he parted with a large sum of money.

One day, she messaged Ramesh.

Mother sick. Needs chemo. Will have to arrange for more than one lakh for her.

Should I help? Asked Ramesh.

No, I won’t accept any help from you anymore. You have already done so much for me.

She immediately went offline. Perturbed by such behavior, Ramesh, on his own accord, went to the bank and got the money transferred. He even sacrificed his provident fund. Left with no choice, Ramesh turned to his son for fund inflows. Out of desperation, he also started selling household things just to help his romantic interest. Despite losing a lot of money and never meeting her in person, Ramesh continued the relationship, not revealingit to anyone.

He also made plans with her to go on a vacation to Thailand. Air flight tickets and accommodations were booked in Bangkok. Everything was in place for the visit. Ramesh looked forward to meeting his lady love in person for the first time and had resolved to propose marriage to her.

I don’t believe in age, Nisha had once said.

This remark remained in Ramesh’s mind for a long time.

But surprise, surprise!!

The very next day, the bell rang and Ramesh went to answer the call.

How is Nisha so early? I had called her to meet me at 10 am. It is only 8. What made her come this early?

He opened the door.

“Hey, Dad!”

A beaming Shanu stood in the doorway.

“How are things? Wanted to give you an early morning surprise visit. My project got completed early,” he said.

Ramesh, for a second, was out of his wit’s end. He stammered something and feigned a fake smile.

Shanu found his father’s reaction a little too cold.

“Maybe he has woken just now, that’s why,” Shanu told himself.

The two went inside the house. In a little while, Shanu started getting suspicious.

“Oh, where is the TV? Is it not functioning fine?”

“I live alone. Who needed the TV? Plus, it wasn’t functioning well, so I disposed it off at the market.”

“Oh. Who did you give it to?”

“Arey, the same Ashok. The shop on the corner,” stammered Ramesh.

“Hmm… I will probably get a new TV. No worries,” said Shanu as he planted himself luxuriously on the sofa in the living room.

“Did you need money in my absence?”

“Nothing like that, son. You already send me so much,” replied a visibly flustered father. “All good,” added Ramesh.

Shanu also noticed the missing microwave but didn’t say anything.

“Something is not right,” he told himself.

Shanu noticed several things missing from the house. He grew suspicious. His father was acting even more weirdly. He was fidgety and continuously on his phone.

On the other hand, Ramesh was fully tensed that Nisha may come in any moment and jumped whenever somebody rang the bell. But morning made way to afternoon and afternoon to evening but nobody came.

“Good that she didn’t come. I would have got caught then,” the love stricken gentleman told himself.

In the evening, Shanu went straight to the TV shop where he found that his father had sold the TV and few other electronic items in full working condition. At the family’s regular grocery store, there were huge bills piled up. They had not been cleared since several months, he was told.

Back in the house, Shanu confronted his father.

“What the hell is going on?” said an agitated Shanu.

Ramesh didn’t reply. After much persuasion Shanu comes to know of Nisha.

“So what if we met online. I want to marryher. I have arranged for everything. You don’t have to worry about any financial burden.”

“Are you out of your mind, dad?” shouted a shocked Shanu.

“You have been conned.”

“Not at all. I know she is genuine.”

“Ok. Then why have you never met her. Why have you never spoken to her? I just can’t imagine this happening!”

“We were scheduled to meet today and fly to Bangkok.”

“So, why didn’t she come?”

“She may have been informed that you are here.”

“How in god’s name would she know that? When you didn’t know how would she know?”

“Okay, I will show you.”

Shanu pulled out his phone and typed something:

He showed a recently posted article by the newspaper The Indian Express, with a screaming headline: 46 people duped by scamsters on Facebook.

Ramesh clearly saw what had been going on with him and how easily he had been duped. Shanu went on to show him tens of other similar articles which reported how people were fooled by fraudsters online.

“Anyway, since when has this been going on?”

“Seven or eight months,” Ramesh started to cry.

When Shanu went through his father’s bank records, he was bewildered to find out that more than a million rupees had been transferred.

Shanu hugs his crestfallen dad.

“Don’t worry papa. We will find out who did this to you.”

They start tracking the account, which went quiet for quite some days. One day, it responds and again asks for money. Ramesh requests details from Nisha in order to verify the identity of the girl and wants to meet her. Nisha immediately gets suspicious and unfriends and blocks him.The trail falls cold but Ramesh is not ready to be defeated and takes the matter forward.

“As a first step, we have to report this to the police.”

“You are right, son. I will do whatever you say.”


Together they approach the local police the next day. Upon listening to the whole episode, the constable directs them to file an FIR with the cybercrime cell.

Cybercrime investigator Anil Kamble will help you,” he assured them.

At the cybercrime cell, Ramesh hands over all the information that he had.

“Try contacting her again,” suggests Kamble.

I did send her a message but it hasn’t been delivered yet.

“Let me dig deep into the account.”

Ramesh passes his phone to the officer.

On deeper investigation, it is revealed that the profile picture is actually a hugely morphed photo of a girl who was kidnapped some months ago from Bhopal. The police try to track the account but it had stopped responding.

Upon hitting a cold trail, Kamble gets stuck and is unable to make any headway and decides to recruit hackers from outside the department. He puts out a bounty advertisement for hackers on the web, disguising the case as a problem.

The best hack solution comes from digital bounty hunter Ali. The 21 year old youth works in a mobile store run by his fatherand turns out to be Shanu’s friend from college. He is famous for his hacking skills and has even helped the police crack several cases of cybercrime in the past, such as Morphing, Blackmail, Hacking, Cyber Theft, etc. that happen in India. Ali is also a digital bounty hunter.

Together, they create a fake profile and start following Nisha’s profile. They develop ways to track the profile and increase communication. They finally succeed in getting the fake profile share a telephone number and a few photographs.

A deeper investigation leads them to an underground crime syndicate which is into child trafficking and online child pornography. After sustained months of using all tricks and the latest technology, the group is able to crack the crime syndicate. The members are arrested and the girl is rescued along with a number of other similarly kidnapped girls.

The girl Nisha actually turns out to be a girl called Madhuri. She comes to know of the story and develops a soft corner for Ramesh. She offers to marry him and take care of him and his loneliness. Shanu also gets back with his girlfriend. Impressed by Ali’s performance, Kamble offers him a permanent contract.

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