scorecardresearch
Download the latest issue of Business Today Magazine just for Rs.49
Paying to get cheated

Paying to get cheated

While working from home is an attractive option, beware of swindlers who will rob you of your money instead of paying you.

No qualification needed! No experience required! Work from home for just two hours! Earn Rs 30,000 a month!"

The slew of exclamation marks and the lack of a job description should be enough of a warning. Instead, most people are so dazzled by the get-rich-quick-without-anysweat idea that they don't bother to dig under the surface.

Unfortunately, they discover that not only is there no such thing as a free lunch, but that they have paid a hefty price for a lot of hot air.

Most work-from-home advertisements are run by scamsters promising jobs which require no skills, less time and can be done while relaxing cosily in your armchair. Yet, these offer you a huge income. They come under different guises.

Some are telemarketing jobs, where you are supposed to make only a few calls every day; pyramid schemes, wherein the more people you get to register with the company, the more money you are supposed to earn, and online data jobs, which allegedly require just a few mouse clicks.

"A company earns money from the work that you do, so why should you pay it to get a job?"
Shikha Khullar
Co-founder, The Placers
Fraudsters spin yarns about how much money you can earn, even citing references from people who have done so.

The only thing you need to do to earn the big bucks is to pay a registration fee to enroll with the company, they say. Of course, once you do this, the company often vanishes with your money.

Six months ago, Nirav Bhatt learnt this harsh lesson. The 24-year-old from Gandhinagar, Gujarat, was lured by a company called Fast Opportunities with the promise of a data entry job. After five days of exchanging mails, the company asked him to send a cheque worth Rs 1,500 so that he could be couriered the training material.

"They did send me work, except that I could neither select the data nor type it in the relevant boxes. Every time I complained, they said they would look into the matter," says Bhatt. The wake-up call came two months later when he couldn't get through the phone numbers and realised that they had been disconnected.

"There wasn't anything I could do," he admits ruefully. "The money was gone and as all my interactions had been through phones and e-mails, I couldn't identify or track the conmen," he adds.

What is surprising is that Bhatt, a commerce graduate, is a Net-savvy youngster who has also worked with the software company HCL for two years.

Just a little time and online research could have helped him save the money. The mass of enticing advertisements about work-from-home jobs is almost equal to the number of complaints by aggrieved people on consumer Websites, such as consumercomplaints.in or indiaconsumerforum. org.

Reporting to the police isn't always helpful as they are restricted to their region, district or state, while most fraudsters have their tentacles spread across the country.

This is what helped a company dupe Chandan (name changed) in Chennai and Ramesh Goel in Jind, Haryana. Both were victims of a company called First Source Consultancy. In fact, both interacted with the same person who called himself Tarun Reddy. The only difference was that while Goel lost Rs 47,000, Chandan had to part with Rs 1.15 lakh.

Reddy promised to help them set up a call centre at home. Both Chandan and Goel checked the Website of the company, which listed an address in Pune (and later, of course, turned out to be fake). Reddy forwarded them various project plans, from which they could choose the one that was most suitable for them. He promised to bring a team of experts to help train their employees.

"He sounded extremely knowledgeable and professional and was intelligent enough to ask for small amounts in stages," says Chandan.

Ramesh echoes the modus operandi, "All their financial projections seemed very stable and believable. In fact, when I couldn't deposit the full amount they had asked for, they were ready to reduce the sum."

To add to their credibility, the consultants also gave their PAN, TAN and an Axis bank account number, where the money was to be deposited. In Goel's case, the consultancy even mailed him the docket number of the courier through which they were sending him the training material.

As it turned out, the only genuine number was that of the bank account. Though both Chandan and Goel have filed FIRs at their respective police stations, nothing has been done.

In such cases, it's not always right to blame the police. The fraud companies mushroom for a couple of months, swindle money from gullible people and then disappear. By the time people realise they have been conned, the scamsters have assumed new identities in other cities. Here's where personal vigilance is most required. Checking up on a few basic facts can save a lot of heartburn later (see What to Check).

"The first thing that should make you suspicious is any demand for money. If it's a genuine company, it will earn money from the work that you do, so why should they ask you to pay an upfront amount?" asks Shikha Khullar, co-founder, The Placers, a placement agency, which has freelance employees working from home. "Do you pay money for a dress without taking a look at it? So, why should you pay for a job about which you don't have sufficient details?" she asks.

It's not enough to be vigilant just the first time around. Never lower your guard. Some scamsters pay a salary for the first two-three months, which convinces most people about their genuineness. Or they give a large bank draft for an amount that is more than that promised by them. You will then be asked to refund the extra amount. While you send them a genuine cheque, their draft is a fake.

Before joining any such seemingly lucrative job, ask the company: Indian colleges produce more than a lakh trained professionals, most of whom get a starting salary of Rs 10,000-20,000 for a full-time job, so why are you willing to pay me so much for a 60-hour per month job? If the answer stokes only your ego, it's likely you will end up with a lighter wallet and a very dented pride.

WHAT TO CHECK

Verify the Address:
Check that the office address listed on the Website exists.

Check Client List:
Ask about their completed projects, list of clients and other employees. Call up to verify.

Look up Directories:
Call all the numbers listed on the Website, especially the landline and fax numbers. Verify these by checking online directories, such as Justdial (www.justdial.com) or Sulekha (www. sulekha.com).

Don't Send Money
Ask why the company wants money. Most work-fromhome jobs require on-hand training, not investment.

Scrutinise Numbers:
Ask the company for their PAN and TAN. These can be verified on the Website of the Income Tax Department (www.incometaxindia. gov.in) by clicking on 'know your PAN/TAN'.