During the second phase of lockdown, social media served with forwards for different kinds of COVID-related help: hospital beds, plasma donors, Remdesivir, home ICU, oxygen, ambulances, tiffin services, etc. There were reports of scarcity of oxygen supply and shortage of beds in hospitals. Doctors recommended installing oxygen concentrators at home for serious patients. As soon as the demand increased, scammers took the advantage of the situation. 

Advertisements were circulated on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram which assured home delivery of oxygen cylinders

This was the first step in how it began. People who were forwarding these numbers had little idea about whether these advertisements are real or fake. They were doing it for the sake of community help.

One of the victims, Himanshu needed oxygen cylinders for his father-in-law urgently, as he had started deteriorating. He called on the number provided on the what's app advertisement. This man, Jai Kishan, who picked up the call, assured him of home delivery of oxygen cylinders. Jai Kishan asked Himanshu to transfer ₹20,000 and ₹30,000 in advance for two oxygen cylinders of 20 kg each through UPI/bank transfer. On transferring the said amount, he didn't get any response from Jai, and when he tried to call him, he immediately blocked Himanshu. After lodging the complaint, police were successful to nab the fraudster. After interrogation, the scammer revealed, he has already cheated 10 people and collected around ₹3 Lakh. He knew that there was a huge requirement for oxygen cylinders for COVID patients and he took advantage of the situation. 

Fake Governments IDs won the trust of several needy people

Another victim was looking for oxygen concentrators for his father, whose health was deteriorating as his oxygen level was dropping, looked on the internet for suppliers. After searching a lot, he finally found a supplier who was selling concentrator models at INR 36,500. He happily informed his friends who were facing similar issues at their homes. As the price was reasonable, considering the circumstances, they agreed to order four of the concentrator models. The supplier, Amit Kumar, assured them that he was from a government agency and his office would dispatch the four concentrators together only after full payment had been made. He sent his ID card through Whatsapp and won their trust. He sent two bank accounts with different names, which the victim found out later. As he was in a bit of panic, he and his friends trusted him, and transferred a total of INR 1,46,000 for four concentrators, in part through PayTM (INR 30,000, INR 30,000, INR 13,000) to the UPI ID and partly (INR 36,500 twice) by IMPS to the provided YES Bank account. And as usual, they never got the machines. When they asked for a refund, the scammer blocked them. The victim had no option other than posting on social platforms. 

How can you save yourself from such frauds?

1. Using a digital escrow enable payment system, like Vouch, will make sure you get a refund if the delivery is not done. 

2. Don't fall for anything that is forwarded through WhatsApp, make sure to verify with competent authorities.

3. In case of verifying fake IDs, contact https://cybercrime.gov.in/

4. Try to buy from an authorized medical equipment dealer. 

Health is your priority but it cannot be saved by losing your money. Using normal payments gateways is not secure while you deal with an unknown person. Trusting the seller is not possible always, but trusting an escrow service in India is possible. 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is Fraud Story #27. Check back here for more fraud chronicles and scams 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 delivered the product or service you contracted to! 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Note: 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 letstalk@iamvouched.com