The man posed as an SBI employee and first approached one member of the community.

Conman uses COVID-19 to cheat 45 Irula tribals in Tamil Nadu of life savingsImage for representation/PTI
Coronavirus Crime Saturday, May 16, 2020 - 19:50

It was a devastating day for 45 persons from the Irula tribe in Chinneri village in Chengalpattu district of Tamil Nadu. At a time when the families, like million across India are trying to grapple with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, an unidentified conman has robbed them of their lifetime savings.

Around 45 persons from the Irula tribe lost over Rs 1,28,000 that they have saved over the years to a conman, who tricked them into revealing their debit card credentials over the phone. The conman had baited them to divulging the card details claiming that the central government has sanctioned Rs 5000 for every family as relief money amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The incident took place on Saturday when Rani*, a resident of the Chinneri village and member of a women’s Self Help Group (SHG) received a call from an unidentified man. The man allegedly told her that he was calling from the State Bank of India (SBI) and wanted to speak to her regarding a scheme launched by Prime Minister Modi. “He said that PM Modi is giving Rs 5000 per Irular family as relief money for COVID-19 and asked me for my debit card details. I shared the details and CVV number with him since he seemed to know me,” Rani tells TNM.

The call which began around 6 am on Saturday went on till around 11.30 am, as Rani called the others around her and made them speak to the conman. He collected all similar details, including the One Time Passwords (OTPs) from some of them, telling them the same reason.

“I informed the villagers about this since it won’t be nice if I alone got the benefit and they didn’t,” explains a crestfallen Rani. Though all of them got text messages from their banks within minutes of sharing their credentials, nobody understood that money had been deducted from their accounts since nobody in the colony knew how to read English. It was only after one of the men from the village, with help from his employer, realised that money has been deducted from his account that others understood that they had been robbed off their savings.

“Around 1.15 pm I got a call from another person from the village who told me to come here for an emergency. When I came here, all I could see was people crying like they were in a death house,” says Selvam, the Village Administrative Officer.

He adds that the person who called must be someone who knows the villagers personally since he called Rani, who is known to be helpful in the village. “When I tried calling that man back in the guise of a villager and asked him about the branch from which he was calling, he didn’t respond and cut the call. His phone has been switched off since then,” Selvam explains. He adds that around 89 Irula families live in the colony and all of them had earned this money by doing odd jobs over many years and that even those who just had Rs 100 in their bank accounts have been robbed of their cash.

The villagers have filed an official complaint with the police and the issue is being investigated. 

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