On August 26, 39-year-old Kumar, a resident of Chennai made a crucial purchase online. After months of struggling to reach his workplace, he decided to buy a bike so that he could travel without depending on public transport and need not be at the mercy of his friends and relatives. He managed Rs.25,000 from his savings and transferred the money via Google pay to an 'army officer' in Pallavaram, whom he had contacted via OLX, an online classifieds marketplace.
"The officer had said that he was being transferred to New Delhi from the Pallavaram army camp where he was currently in and wanted to sell his Honda Activa bike. It was my uncle who spoke to him, as he only communicated in Hindi," says Kumar, who works as a car driver. "He claimed to be working in the army for five years and even sent an identification card as proof," he adds.
The 'officer' told Kumar to pay him first and claimed that proof of payment would be required for him to deliver the bike.
"When I said I will come collect the bike myself, he said I won't be allowed into the camp area. So I made the payment," says Kumar. "But as soon as I sent the money, he told me to send Rs.9000 more. That is when I began to realise that I was being cheated," he laments.
Kumar had been tricked by an ongoing scam that is rampant on OLX. In what has now become a recurring theme, where con artists from other states use fake identification cards to pose as army officials and trick unsuspecting buyers into paying them money.. According to the Cyber crime cell, there have been 100 such complaints in Tamil Nadu, since January this year. But a report in the New Indian express suggests that this number of such incidents could be as high as 100 cases in just 45 days.
Speaking to TNM, an official from the Cyber Crime department explains that following the arrest of two people involved in this scam in Rajasthan, the incidets had reduced.
"For about two months, in March and April, we didn't receive too many cases. But there has been a spurt in such fake sales since July again," says the official. "The challenge here is that customers use applications such as Google Pay or PayTM, so we have only the phone numbers of the accused. This makes it difficult to track them down. But we have still bunched several petitions together and are investigating the matter," he adds.The cyber crime police are not new to such cases, but point out that only awareness can help tackle this crime.
"We have asked OLX to verify the accounts putting items for sale. But they have made it clear from their end that they cannot filter users and individually verify. In such a situation, our only resort is to spread awareness. OLX has put out warnings on its site and we have also given clear messages about these kinds of scams. People need to be careful, there is no other go," says the official. "We are also making efforts to nab the culprits, but it is a challenging and time consuming process."