From counterfeit medicines to fire extinguishers disguised as oxygen cylinders and recycled personal protective equipment (PPE), India’s coronavirus crisis is lucrative and sometimes even fatal for its army of crooks that continue to invent.
Komal Taneja’s husband, Chandrakant, died out of breath at his home in New Delhi last month because the oxygen tank they paid for on the Internet for $200 never arrived.
“We tried desperately to find beds for a week… Two private hospitals asked us for 1 million rupees (13,800 US dollars) in advance,” Komar told AFP in a hoarse phone.
“Then we met a contact online who promised to deliver the oxygen cylinder within one hour after paying 15,000 rupees (US$205). When we did, they asked for more money and then stopped responding,” Komar added .
Chandrakant, 36, worked in the stock market and died on May 1. His housewife wife was looking for a job to help take care of his sick parents.
India has been unscrupulously defrauding ordinary people for a long time, including fraud abroad.
In a typical case, in December, the police destroyed a call center that allegedly defrauded 4,500 Americans from 14 million U.S. dollars.
They pretended to be US officials and told the victims that their bank account was used by a drug cartel and the only option was to convert their assets into Bitcoin, and then the gang would cash it out.
In 2019, a carefully planned scam involving police and doctors caused hundreds of villagers in Haryana to die in road traffic accidents in order to apply for insurance.
Investigators say that as India suffers from the devastating coronavirus surge, many crooks have turned their attention to blackmailing desperate COVID-19 patients and relatives.
Narendra, an executive at a private company in Noida, said he was deceived by a complicated scam while desperately looking for an oxygen generator for a sick friend.
“I found a link to a supplier that looks authentic, and there is even a catalog of different models. The prices are also very competitive,” Naran told AFP.
“I talked to a person on the phone. He asked to pay about 45,000 rupees ($616) in two installments. I was sure it was true and even recommended this supplier to another acquaintance.
The device never arrived.
Narang’s case is one of at least 600 investigations launched by the police in New Delhi in recent weeks, with people desperately searching for oxygen, hospital beds and medicine.
“These criminals think this is a good time to enter,” Hibesh Singh, a senior Delhi police officer, told AFP.
His crime department team has arrested many scammers, including a gang that manufactures and sells counterfeit antiviral drug Remdesivir at a price as high as 40 times the market price.
“The counterfeit medicine bottles produced by these people cost about 20 rupees (30 cents), and (they) sell them in the market for more than 10,000 rupees,” Singh said.
In another case, one gang repainted the fire extinguisher and sold it as an oxygen cylinder, while another pretended to be a doctor and provided a bed that did not exist.
This week, it was reported that six men were arrested on suspicion of washing, repacking and selling several tons of used surgical gloves in hospitals.
“We can only urge people to be extra careful when contacting such contacts for online help,” Singh said.
Some victims demand severe punishment.
“Hang them up,” Narong said.
“If that’s not the case, then the government should ensure life imprisonment. It’s not just spiritual or financial, they are playing with human lives.”