Scrambling between a COVID-positive mother and a COVID-positive father, I was getting exhausted. Given the deluge of cases and the shortage of beds in Delhi’s hospitals, we had decided to home quarantine, but I was now wondering if it had been a good idea. My father’s oxygen levels had started dropping.
The doctor told me not to get anxious. Oxygen levels do fluctuate, but if we could get an oxygen concentrator at home it would relieve some of the tension. The oxygen situation in the hospitals was anyway uncertain, and with several friends and family members in other houses also testing positive, a machine like this would be useful to have.
Searching for COVID resources
I started scanning the internet for suppliers of oxygen concentrators. Social media is full of forwards for different kinds of COVID-related help: hospital beds, plasma donors, Remdesivir, home ICU, oxygen, ambulances, tiffin services and so on. Over two hours, I called about fifty numbers for oxygen. Some numbers did not exist. Some were constantly engaged. Some kept ringing with no answer. The ones that I did reach all said that there would be a waiting time, ranging between one and five days, as oxygen cylinders and concentrators were both in high demand.
All except for one person, who was located in Delhi itself and could deliver in two to four hours. This was what we needed. Till the time the machine arrived, I would get my father do the other things that improve oxygen – like lying on the stomach and deep breathing exercises that have been suggested by professionals.
Happy at the good fortune of finding a supplier, I informed my friends who were also in similar positions. All of them had someone in the house down with COVID. The price for the concentrator model being sold was Rs 36,500 which we thought was reasonable, given the circumstances. We decided to place an order for four machines and the supplier, Amit Kumar, said he had enough stock.
Amit Kumar (if that even is his name) said that he was from a government agency and his office would despatch the four machines together after full payment had been made. This was fair and as reassurance, he sent his ID card by Whatsapp. I was convinced he was genuine. He shared a YES Bank account number under the name of Sameer (later I traced this to Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh) and an IDFC Bank account number under the name of Shivam Agarwal (traced to Khirkian, Madhya Pradesh).
I was in a bit of a panic to get the machines, so he gave me the option of transferring money to a UPI ID. My friends and I transferred a total of Rs 1,46,000 for four machines, in part through PayTM (Rs 30,000, Rs 30,000 and Rs 13,000) to the UPI ID and partly (Rs 36,500 twice) by IMPS to the YES Bank account. He got back saying that only one transfer of Rs 36,500 was showing and we would need to transfer again. We decided to wait for the payment to show but he kept messaging to say that if I didn’t make the payment, he would cancel the order and there was no guarantee of refund.
We have not received the machines and we did not get our money back. The fraudster has blocked our numbers and we cannot reach him. From the looks of it, he is sitting in some corner of India and selling machines that do not exist, to desperate people all over the country.
On the positive side, my parents are better and will hopefully recover.
How to prevent being a victim of online fraud?
There are people out there who are taking advantage of the medical situation and our state of mind. With sick relatives in our homes and in hospitals, we are constantly anxious and these unscrupulous vultures are waiting to swoop down upon us.
This happened to me for oxygen, but it could happen for almost any product or service. I did whatever I thought was necessary to check his genuineness. He was marked as a “verified” source, because he would have answered the verification calls that people are making to help us cut through the clutter. However, I regret not verifying the ID that he sent, without me even asking for it. When I see it now, it looks fake. I also did not have the presence of mind to check where those bank accounts were located. Please be vigilant and don’t commit the mistake that I have made.
To prevent getting cheated online:
- Buy from a reputed online marketplace that pays the sellers after delivery of the goods. We customers will also have the option to return and get a refund.
- If we have to go with a small seller, insist on payment on delivery or pickup from a local office. Times are hard and we may not have the time, but there are many volunteers who may be willing to help.
- If you have to pay online, get details of the office – address, phone number. Ask for a proper proforma invoice/estimate to be mailed to you. Note the bank account to which you have been asked to transfer to. The fact that the accounts are in the names of random people located in different states should have made me realise, if I had checked at that time.
Some insurance companies offer cyber insurance, so if you are someone who is tempted to buy online regularly, it may be worth taking this.
What do you do if you get scammed online?
When I realised that I had been cheated, I called police 100 and they asked me to register a complaint with the Cyber Crime portal. I have registered my complaint at https://cybercrime.gov.in and awaiting justice. We hope that he and his network will be caught and punished.
[This article from a citizen journalist was co-authored by Arathi Manay Jajaman]