Published On : Wed, Jun 17th, 2015

New Facebook racket! Beware of these ‘generous’ friends

Nagpur: Sadhana ( name changed for privacy) is one of the many women of Nagpur who is quite active on facebook. She is married, has grown up kids, and is somewhat bored of her routine life. There are some joint family tensions too, which make her unhappy. Facebook is a good ” time pass” she thought. Among her friends are many of her cousins and relatives, old school friends, but also some unknown people whom we all seem to add for one reason or another. May be we have many ‘common friends’ with them, the profile seems ok, or we are just in a charitable and friendly mood that day! It could be anything…one also thinks, this is online, so at a distance, what harm can happen? I can always ‘delete’ the friendship or ignore chat messages. And let’s face it, your facebook timeline is the ultimate ego booster. Who doesn’t like to get a 100+ likes on a new photo you post?

One day she received a ‘friend request’ from a Mark Davis ( this was the actual name) who claimed to live in Germany, Europe. Tickled that a foreigner wanted to be her friend, she accepted it.

Soon, he began chatting with her on Facebook Messenger. He would compliment her on her looks and ‘personality’. He would say that chatting with her made his day go better. Then he began unburdening his sob story to her – how he had been through a painful divorce which still hurt a great deal. Sadhana began consoling him and listening to his sad tales sympathetically. (Which woman doesn’t have a maternal instinct that makes her reach out to even a stranger with a tragic tale? Specially of the marital type?) After a while he asked for her cell number – he said he wanted to hear her voice. After some hesitation, she gave it. He called her the next day and and spoke for a long time. She says she could not understand much of his accent but she could make out that he was really a “foreigner”.

Thus the friendship progressed, all within decent limits, she said. But they became “good friends”.

On Sadhana’s birthday, Mark said he wanted to send her a birthday gift. She said ‘no’ at first. When he insisted saying she had been a very good friend to him, she agreed and gave him her residence address. He then sent her a Whatsapp message showing a photo of the courier company’s slip through which his present had been sent. She was secretly thrilled and was waiting for her gift to arrive when she got a phone supposedly from Delhi. The woman said she was speaking from Customs and there was a package from Germany for Sadhana. But she would have to pay Custom’s duty to receive it. The duty was Rs. 30,000/ !! The amount caused alarm bells; for the first time Sadhana told her husband everything about Mark, and asked him what she should do about the ‘gift’. One part of her mind was also wondering if the ‘duty’ was so high, how expensive the gift must be? She asked Mark. He said that it was a “suprise gift” but also re assured her that he had enclosed some US $s in the gift to compensate for the money she would have to pay as customs.

Eventually, Sadhana’s husband decided to call the courier company and make some enquiries. He was told that the courier company was based in N.E. India but the receipt was a fake. She questioned Mark, he did not reply. After that she did not hear from him again… but as she says, if the amount had been smaller, she would really have paid up too! She came close to doing it, very close.

The absolute same story happened with a city Doctor’s wife. Let’s call her Reena. The couple is well off, the Doc keeps very busy in his clinic and hospital and Reena was bored at home. She too accepted a friend request from a foreigner – in her case it was an “Australian”. Their conversations also went on the same lines as Sadhana’s but in this case the friend began getting amorous. He said he was “falling in love” with her and couldn’t live a day without chatting with Reena. She was tickled and pleased by his attentions and affection but told him she was ‘happily married’ and could not get into a relationship, even long distance.

Her Australian friend pretended to be heart broken but requested her to continue the friendship. He also then said he wanted to send her a gift.

The same scenario as Sadhana’s followed, only in this case the Custom duty asked for was Rs. 57,000/ ! When they investigated, they learnt that the gift had to cost at least Rs. 50 lakhs for this duty to be demanded. Reena’s friend told her he had sent her a diamond bracelet. In her case also they did not pay and on probing further found that the woman who said she was a Custom’s officer had made the phone from Ulhas Nagar, Mumbai!

Since, we at Nagpur Today heard about two such cases in two days, we asked the Cyber crime API about it. Inspector Dinesh Shah, said that this matter hadn’t been reported to their office yet, but requests anyone who has been targeted like this to bring it to their notice ASAP.

They warn that no such message should be deleted but shown to the cyber crime Police Divn. instead.

Every computer has a unique ID and such messages can be traced to the computer being used and the person sending these messages. We suspect that all these so called ‘foreigners’ are Indians speaking with foreign accents and they target mostly gullible women who fall for their fake friendships and get emotionally involved. If the messages are saved and soft copies and hard copies given to the police, these culprits can be caught.

Not just such cases, if you have faced any other harassment or have been targets of “Facebook Romeos” too, please report the matter.

The number to call is – 0712 2566766

An earnest request – Save yourselves lot of trouble, even tragedy. Do NOT ever accept ‘friend requets’ from persons you do not know personally.

…Sunita Mudaliar- Associate Editor