The world of scammers is an interesting one. It knows how humans are wired. It knows how to trip the filter of suspicion and nullify it completely. It knows how to lure even the most logical, cautious, and rational guys into their trap.
50 Million people fell for it!
How do they do it? Let us understand this with the help of an example. An infamous example that even some of the best minds fell for it. To give you a sense of how many fell for it - here's the number - 50 Million people fell for it. This was not a scam perpetrated by a cyber conman in disguise. This was a scam perpetrated the old-fashioned way out in the open.
Real scammers are slick and out in the open - not like this cyber conman
It started in the mind of a guy called Mohit Goel in the year 2017. Mohit Goel is a smart man. He knows the trend of the times. In the years following the demonetization, national fervor was high. Jio had just given millions of people free data. Jio phones were mostly featured phones that could not take advantage of the free data that Jio offered. Further, India-based mobile manufacturers such as Intex and Micromax had launched cheap smartphones.
Mohit roped in an old man to give his scam credibility
Traits of a scammer.
Another trait of a scammer or fraudster is to understand the common narrative in the culture. Indians have a natural suspicion for business and businessmen. Further, it is a constant Indian trait that belittles the price of something.
An answer to all smart remarks!
During a visit to an appliance showroom to buy an AC or to the market to buy something, it is common for your friend or relative to remark that the seller got it for almost nothing. If the AC costs you ₹30,000, your smart friend or uncle will tell you that for the seller, it perhaps did not even cost ₹10,000. Of course, what he does not realize is that the cost of sales staff, incentives, the rental cost, transportation, the cost of operations, and finally, the margin (the poor chap also has a family to feed) have to be added to this so-called ₹10,000 which brings it to ₹30,000. But your smart friend or uncle is convinced that ₹30,000 is wrong and that you should get the AC for ₹10,000.
Expect to get something for nothing!
In itself, it is not a completely wrong expectation. We are constantly told by some businesses that they charge a low price because they remove the middle man. And this gives us the feeling that we can get something for a cheap price. And finally, the expectation to get something for nothing. The internet is full of free products and stuff and we should get it too.
How he managed to scam people.
This is what Mohit Goel leveraged. All that Mohit had to do was link the trend of the times, the cultural narrative that taking out middlemen will reduce prices drastically and everyone loves to get something for nothing - with an object that everyone desires - a shiny new smartphone. And the scam or scheme was born.
The scam was so successful that 50 million people signed up for it. Inspite of mobile phone manufacturers cautioning that it was impossible to deliver a smartphone at a price of ₹251, 50 million fell for it. Mohit Goel's con was so real that he promised he would be able to deliver.
Was not a scam for 1% of the population!
Eventually, news broke out that the delivery was delayed and this happened multiple times. They delivered the phone to a few people and kept the hopes alive. Perhaps buying time till he was able to divert the funds and pay off the authorities to avoid punishment. In the end, he pulled it off. The money was lost, almost no one got their phone and it turned out that the public memory of scams was shortlived.
So, here is how he put it all together:
1. Promise something for almost nothing
2. Keep the individual amount so small that no one will fight for it ₹251 is not worth fighting for
3. Make it look real - delivered a few phones
4. Look genuine - he even asked the Indian Government for help to deliver these phones at that price
5. Buy time - announce delay till funds are diverted
Look for these signs the next time someone promises you something in return for nothing. As the adage goes, "If it sounds too good to be true, its probably not true".
Could the Freedom 251 scam be prevented or could you protect yourself from a scam like this? Yes. Do the following:
1. Do a bit of research to check if this can be true
2. Ask people why they think it could be true
3. Always, always protect your payment with a platform like Vouch
Here's the difference between Vouch and normal payment methods
With money, there are 2 rules
Rule #1: Never Lose Money.
Rule #2: Never Forget Rule #1
This is Fraud chronicle #2. Check back here for more payment chronicles and frauds that you can protect yourself from.
Safety is not just about protecting your credit or debit card number. It's about having control of your money till you've received the product or service you bought online!
This is a good-faith initiative to educate the world about how to avoid frauds like these. Do you have a fraud that you would like to report? Please write to us at email@example.com