• Monday, Aug 26, 2019
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Beware of the suave swindler

  • Published at 12:00 am January 21st, 2019
Fraud Alert
Watch out BIGSTOCK

A new breed of educated, articulate, and persuasive tricksters are about

Recently, a man in his early 50s was arrested for duping people by taking money from them, promising to give them seized gold bars. An ingenious scheme indeed, because, so far, there isn’t a legal system to import gold to Bangladesh and, all the gold found in the market has some dubious past. Obviously, in such circumstances, gold bars at a low cost are particularly tempting. 

The con man in question knew his art and took the game of hoodwinking people to a different level, because he adopted the affluence-elegance-charm formula which works most of the times, fooling even the most cautious and observant people. 

Actually, as the society in Bangladesh has become more tech-savvy and wealthy, with a burgeoning middle class, swindling the old fashioned way may appeal to small-time crooks but not the big-time players. 

Befuddle victims with perceptions of wealth 

The person who was arrested for using the premise of gold bars for sale is one Khandakar Mohammad Faruk, who introduced himself either as a customs official or a functionary of the Bangladesh Bank.    

As per reports he is articulate, moves with two female secretaries, and has all the accoutrements of material success -- expensive mobile phone, swanky car, and wads of cash. 

The case reminds me of the old saying: If you want to make money then you must smell like money. Now, whoever said that possibly didn’t think of fraudsters, though whether one’s game is legit or not, this aphorism works to the hilt. 

Reading about Khandakar brought back memories of a con man I knew in the early 90s. Well, to be honest, the guy was a friend, who grew up with us in Elephant Road but while most of us were focusing on education, he had eyes for making a fast buck. 

His trade was second-hand cars, or to be precise “jharbatti gari” a term used to refer to vehicles that look snazzy but are in fact replete with problems. 

Jharbatti” is the Bengali term for chandelier, which is a pattern of light usually lit to create an atmosphere of magnificence. 

Anyway, the idea was to make the car look spotless on the outside and paint it with a colour that instantly attracts a buyer -- a shiny red, electric blue, sensuous silver, and so on. 

Obviously, if you want to sell a car and a potential buyer finds that you actually have three other cars, the game becomes easier. After all, why would a person with two or three cars be shady? 

Unfortunately, guardians and parents always taught/teach us that anyone who looks wealthy and socially established is more trustworthy, whereas those who look grubby and impoverished are prone towards criminality. 

A lesson about civilized swindlers was never imparted. Most learn it after a bitter experience. In my life at least, many dodgy-looking people actually turned out to be virtuous and kind with remarkable levels of integrity. 

The swanky organization which duped retired officers  

About two months ago, there was a news by Bangla Tribune about several retired government officials conned by an organization, which gave them appointment letters with a fat salary and told the victims that on the first of the coming month, the office car, allocated to him only, would be sent to his home in the morning to bring him to work. 

There was, however, a caveat: As per the rule of the company, the employee would have to pay an amount to the office fund that would be reimbursed later. 

Now, why would someone fall for this old trick? 

Actually, the organization used the aura of wealth as the technique and set up a plush office with guards and beautiful young secretaries. 

I don’t mean to be sexist, but women play an essential part in scams because in front of a charming lady, practical sense often takes a leave. We are all susceptible to the feminine enchantment -- as the sage Chanakya once said in ancient India.  

So, seeing a full-blown official operation and beguiled by the women, the retired officers paid between Tk10 and Tk15 lakh from their retirement funds; when the car did not come, they went to find that the office had disappeared. 

The police later nabbed the people involved in the fraud operation and found that they have a special team to seek out retired officers who have received hefty pensions and have money to give. 

Of late, some fraudsters have appeared in the market who offer jobs to gullible people. In another case last year, a few paid large amounts of money to a group claiming to have links with the defense forces. The unsuspecting people were also handed fake appointment letters only to find the truth when they went to report for duty. 

The point is, a new breed of educated, articulate, and persuasive tricksters are about. The technique they use is an old one as I recall from an episode of Fawlty Towers, called “A Touch of Class.” 

Watch it not for fun only, but for a very important lesson about how not to be overwhelmed by an air of pseudo-class and refinement.  

And if Bengali movies are your type of entertainment, then find Mohanayak, an Alamgir Kabir gem starring the late Bulbul Ahmed as a suave mountebank. 

Towheed Feroze is News Editor for Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.