CHENNAI: It all boils down to the right price. From a sweeper’s job in the local municipality to a job in public sector undertakings, there’s always someone who knows someone who can get you the job for the right price. There are consultancies which place you in jobs abroad for a commission. People sell lands and jewellery, use up savings, or take loans to arrange the ‘right price’. “It is this desperation which the scammers capitalise on,” said a senior police officer with Chennai police.
After more than a decade and a half in the workforce, Naveen (name changed) of Arakkonam, a product design engineer, wanted to get out of his workplace. At the beginning of 2021, he lost his father to COVID-19. After working in Jamshedpur and Dharwad, the 42-year-old ME graduate wanted to be near his mother and family in Tamil Nadu.
“In hindsight, the first mistake I made was I forgot why I wanted to shift jobs and got swayed away,” Naveen recalled. Scrolling through Linkedin, he came across an advertisement about a consultancy which claimed to get jobs in Canada.
After he filled out the form through the ad, a woman got in touch with him through WhatsApp. She quoted Rs 5 lakh as the ‘right price’ to Naveen and he was to pay half in India and a half to his ‘sponsor’ in Canada.
“Though I wanted to come to Tamil Nadu to be with my family, a job in a foreign country appeared lucrative. One of my friends is in Canada, who went through a similar route and when I saw his social media posts, life seemed good,” Naveen said. He wanted a much better life for his family.
Meanwhile, Naveen continued his WhatsApp conversations with the woman agent, who explained to him about availing IRCC (Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada) log-in (a temporary work permit), LMIA (labour market impact assessment) document, and a sponsorship visa.
“When I cross-checked on the internet, these were shown as necessary. I even gave my biometrics and a medical test, which made me trust them,” Naveen said.
Police said it is a classic con act pulled by these scamsters who make the public believe with their sweet talk and conviction. “They also do not get the money in full and get it in instalments,” a police officer said.
Amidst growing concerns among his well-wishers to ensure he was not being taken for a ride, Naveen visited the consultancy’s office at Spencer Plaza and met the woman agent and asked for contacts of persons who went to Canada through them.
“The woman gave him a phone number, but the person at the other end was almost always out of reach,” Naveen said. Despite his doubts, he went through with the process and initially paid Rs 25,000 after which he was sent a contractual agreement. Then, over several months, he was sent the necessary processed papers (all forged) through WhatsApp after which he paid in instalments.
By March 2022, he had submitted his passport and was told that once his visa is processed, probably by end-May, he would fly to Canada. “I asked them to give a confirmed date as I was still working and had not put in my papers. The woman got back after a couple of days and told me that I can resign,” Naveen said.
Naveen resigned, dreaming about a job and life abroad. “I planned to go there first and secure a good job and take my family after a couple of years. Since my wife is also an engineer, I thought she can get a job there too.”
It was the end of May and there was no response from the woman agent about his date of travel. One day, she called Naveen and told him that the airfares have increased and he will have to pay another Rs 50,000. Naveen sensed foul play and demanded his passport back. By this time, Naveen had paid Rs 3 lakh. “The woman, soft-spoken till then, changed her tone and threatened me. She said I can go wherever I wanted to,” said Naveen.
A distraught Naveen managed to track down one other applicant and went to his house in Perungalathur. He was a fresher and his father was a Vigilance officer in the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board. Despite Naveen’s warnings, the other person went ahead and paid Rs 1 lakh towards the increased fare.
Naveen managed to track down a few other applicants and formed a WhatsApp group to discuss the consultancy. As doubts lingered, a few along with Naveen came to Chennai and checked out the offices in Vadapalani and Spencer Plaza and found the offices closed. The phone numbers of the agents were out of service.
Realising they were cheated and with their passports with scamsters, Naveen and 10 others approached Chennai city police in August and submitted whatever details they had about the agents.
After several days of investigation and tracking, last month, the job racket wing of the Central Crime Branch (CCB) of the city police arrested three persons — SC Hariharan (42), his wife Nirmala alias Malarvizhi of Navi Mumbai and their accomplice, Raju Bhai (42) of Raigad district in Maharashtra. They ran two consultancy firms in Chennai — Aalfa global Connect at Arcot Road in Vadapalani and United India Travels in Anna Salai, through which they lured jobseekers to Canada. They made aspirants believe they are well connected with embassy officials and could get visas, work permits, other documents, and even Permanent Residency.
A city court denied them bail last week. With dreams coming crashing down, Naveen is surviving with his savings and is on the hunt for a job. “My passport is now part of the court case. I was told I can declare the old passport lost and get a new one, and some agents can make it happen. I decided I will get it through court,” Naveen said. He will never believe an agent again, even for the right price.
Craze for govt jobs keeps cops busy
CHENNAI: Police inspector L Kalarani remembers her first and only visit to a star hotel. She was accompanied by a woman constable. Kalarani had called an agent posing as a villager seeking a job for her niece.
“We had separate sim cards to call the crooks as they should not be alerted through apps like Truecaller,” Kalarani recalls. The inspector and the constable meet the agent first at a lodge in Triplicane, where the agent prepares the policewomen on how to conduct themselves in front of “senior government officials” and tells them the quicker they pay the money, the faster their files will be processed.
At the prominent star hotel near the airport, the constable is interviewed by a group who claim to be senior officials with the Railways. “They looked the part,” inspector Kalarani recalled.
After the meeting, the agent takes a token of Rs 5,000 from the women and demands the initial payment of Rs 2 lakh to process the appointment order. The undercover operation led police to the arrest of an 11-member gang that shifted from city to city, orchestrating recruitment scams.
The job racket wing of the CCB believes in busting the whole racket down and not a single agent, said a senior police officer.
Of the 450 complaints the job racket wing of Chennai Police received this year, more than 75 per cent involve scams promising government jobs. Data released by the Tamil Nadu government showed that over 67 lakh persons registered for government jobs as on October 31. For the scamsters, it is 67 lakh potential targets.
“They target people promising low cadre jobs like office assistants, and drivers in government departments. Jobs in Railways, Tangedco, and banks are among the most we come across,“ said a police officer, who said in several cases, they have arrested repeat offenders.
In 2010, Chennai police arrested a Secretariat staff, an assistant section officer, in a cheating case. Madhavan usurped more than Rs 35 lakh from traders making them believe he runs three firms and convinced them to invest.
Three weeks ago, the job racket wing arrested Madhavan for orchestrating an elaborate job racket using his contacts in the Secretariat and cheating aspirants of Rs 3 crore. Using the help of his former colleagues, Madhavan conducted bogus exams within Secretariat premises and gave the aspirants fake appointment orders.
“He took anywhere between Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh from an aspirant. He had collected more than Rs 3 crore from more than 100 aspirants,” said a police officer. After getting the money, he either dodged them or returned half the money to keep their hopes intact and targeted other aspirants.
In cases of government jobs, scamsters show a photograph of him/her with a minister or an MLA to fake being influential.
Inspector Kalarani, who had spent close to two decades in TN police feels her two years in the job racket wing have made her feel she is doing important police work.
“This (recruitment scam) is a societal crime. So many dreams and aspirations are at stake,” Kalarani said. Hers is one of the three teams in the job racket wing.
Sometimes, it’s the stories of the victims themselves, which drives these officials. There were instances where victims from across the state came to Chennai to file complaints. “One stayed at Koyambedu bus terminus and did not even have money for the return bus fare. He had no necessity to come to Chennai. But, he wanted it not to happen to others,” said a city police officer.