In the last week of December, Shaigari Shravan, a Hyderabad-based student in an unheralded technology training school, received an email confirming his appointment as a manager in the information technology department of Tata Motors Ltd. The only caveat was that he would have to make a refundable security deposit of Rs.10,250. Elated at landing such a good job, even before the annual placement season had commenced, Shravan did not think twice before taking a loan from his mother to make the payment.
In retrospect, Shravan wishes he had been more circumspect. He soon realized the job wasn’t real. And by then the people behind the scam had vanished, with his money. “The letter seemed very authentic, I didn’t doubt it,” he said.
Shravan can take comfort (if it can be called that) from the fact that he isn’t alone. Scores of people seem to have fallen prey to the same fraud, leaving them poorer and, in the process, also denting the reputations of some blue-chip automobile companies.
Over the past months several auto companies besides Tata Motors, including Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd and some makers of household appliances have been flooded by similar complaints. A spokesperson for one of the auto companies, who asked that the company not be identified, said that it had thus far received around 20 complaints from people taken for a ride at the cost of the company. Mint’s review of online consumer forums revealed around 400 such complaints in total. Exasperated companies have now finally moved and filed police complaints.
The fraud combined audacity with clever thinking. First, it targeted students graduating from lesser-known schools, who would, in the normal course of events, not be considered by the major companies. They were a perfect target. Secondly, the offers were made on behalf of automobiles, information technology and consumer product companies; all three are happening businesses. Thirdly, in most instances, the applicants were first approached on job portals, one of the fastest growing platforms for job searches where there are no intermediaries.
Naukri.com, one of the most popular job portals in the country, has a database of around 20 million people, out of which 25% are freshers and a similar proportion have a job experience varying between one and three years. Hitesh Oberoi, chief operating officer of Info Edge India Ltd, which runs the popular job portal Naukri.com, said that there are hundreds of job sites now and around 12,000-13,000 new profiles are added every day. Shravan isn’t on Naukri.com.
A Mint investigation revealed that the perpetrator or perpetrators of the fraud, in their communication to applicants, used email IDs that had the company’s name and the domain name @companyhrd.com. They also used forged stationery of the companies. The offer letter, which has a common format, also includes an authentic current account number with a bank and a permanent account number of the account holder; typically, applicants were asked to make a deposit of around Rs.6,000-12,000. The letter includes details of a live mobile number that can be reached for clarifications; however, after the bank deposit is made the number, presumably a pre-paid connection, goes dead.
One such account was tracked to Union Bank of India by Mint. An employee at the bank, who did not want to be identified, said that it was opened in November 2009 and was frozen by the bank after it received complaints from individuals who had deposited sums in these accounts. “Though in the savings account (that was frozen) only Rs.17,496 was deposited, the same person has a current account which saw transactions up to Rs.7.2 crore till 31 December,” the employee added. Most of this money was withdrawn by the account holder. “At present, the account has only Rs.12,960,” the bank employee said.
Indeed, the fraudster or fraudsters seem to have factored in frozen accounts. Shravan was first asked to deposit the money into an account in Andhra Bank but the bank told him this account had been frozen, which should have set the alarm bells ringing. He was subsequently asked to deposit money into an account at State Bank of India (SBI), which he did. The banks used by the fraudsters include Punjab National Bank, ICICI Bank Ltd, Union Bank of India and Axis Bank Ltd. Mint has a list of some 15 phone numbers and bank accounts used by the fraudsters (who may or may not be part of the same group) but could not independently verify whether the names used to open the accounts were authentic.
To verify the claims made by job applicants, Mint corresponded with the fraudsters from a private email account on 3 January. A reply, received from email@example.com on the following day said, “You have to deposit a refundable security amount by cash Rs.8,950 in Indian Bank”. “The security amount paid by the candidate. This is a refundable amount. And this is compulsory because this is company process,” added the mail.
A Nissan spokesperson said that such instances had been brought to the company’s notice “but we haven’t received any formal complaint in this matter. So, we are yet to take any action. Our global HR (human resources) and legal team have been kept in the loop,” said a Nissan Motor India Pvt. Ltd spokesperson. “As far as recruitment at Nissan entities are concerned, we have a very transparent recruitment policy done through major head hunters across the globe.”
While Shravan did not file a police complaint, automobile companies have initiated criminal action to contain the fraud.
“We have registered a complaint and also issued a public notice in this regard,” said S.Y. Siddiqui, managing executive officer, human resource and administration, Maruti Suzuki. According to the complaint filed with the cyber wing of the Gurgaon crime branch on 31 December—preceded by a complaint on 16 December—and reviewed by Mint, a case was registered against Mukandikwa Taku and Pradeep Kumar, the names of the account holders in the bank, under the Information Technology Act, 2000, and sections dealing with computer and data protection crimes in the Indian Penal Code.
Siddiqui said the police were probing various accounts and locations across the country. “There were at least 54 mobile numbers used in the process, out of which three are still active and operating from Mumbai, Pune and one of the north-eastern states.”
A Tata Motors spokesperson said the company has also registered a police complaint with the cyber wing of Mumbai police against the name featured in the mail doing the rounds.
The police are yet to make a breakthrough in the case.
“We have registered a case regarding job fraud and are investigating the matter,” said Gurgaon’s deputy commissioner of police (crime branch) Mithesh Jain. He added that no arrest has been made so far in the case as the investigators were collecting and verifying the details. Mumbai’s assistant commissioner of police (cyber cell) Sanjay Jadav said that such cases are on a rise.
Read full story from publisher