Earlier this month, there was news of a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student getting duped of US$6,667 (INR 3,00,000) in an e-mail scam. The fraud started when the student received an e-mail from an organization that called itself the Global Watch Institute, inviting him to attend two seminars it was holding--one in New York and the other in Madrid--on the same subject: Racism and Human Rights.
While reading this news over his cup of morning tea, my husband looked at me and smiled. He then read it out aloud and said: "This could have been you."
Well, yes. He was right. It may have well been me. It's just that I am a little too old to get carried away or flattered by congratulatory e-mail. In December, I got an e-mail from a mass media foundation (supposedly) based in a neighboring country that said that I had been nominated for the "best journalist of the year 2010" award. The organization had a pretty convincing Web site, too.
Call me a cynic, but after spending over 15 years in the profession, I know that you don't get an award just like that. You need to apply for them. Even then it's not easy. And if you are nominated, there is mostly a vested interest.
For instance, publications often dole out awards to industrialists to build "relations" (read: get stories and advertisements) with them. This is, of course, not to say that all awards are a farce.
I never responded to the e-mail (all sent from a Gmail account) sent by this foundation. Moreover, I did a simple check on the Internet. I went to the whois.com site to find out who had registered this Web site. Whois.com usually gives you the name and address of the person or company that had registered a certain Web site; and this applies to almost all Web sites in the world). No name appeared when I queried this particular Web site.
The Web site, interestingly, had a lot of photographs of previous ceremonies where journalists had been awarded. It also had pictures of some prominent media personalities from India and the rest of the world. And the nominations list had names of some leading journalists (from both TV and print). But what was a constant was bad grammar and wrongly spelt names in both the e-mail and Web site. To me, that spoke volumes about the credentials of the people running this "foundation".
To my surprise, this mass media organization didn't give up. They kept calling me. Fortunately, I missed some of their calls. Once, I did pick up and I told the lady that I don't believe in awards. They wanted to confirm my participation--airlines reservations and hotel bookings had to be made, accommodation and "foods" was meant to be free. I wondered why they were so interested, especially when I wasn't.
This foundation even sent me a letter (via snail mail) with a nomination letter and an invitation card for the ceremony. They tried quite hard to convince me. Maybe this foundation is authentic, but the risk of accepting their invitation was rather high.
Well, the reason why I am narrating this long tale is to draw your attention to the length at which fraudsters will go in order to convince you. They will call you, e-mail you, create Web sites to convince you and even send you letters by post so that you are convinced of their "authenticity". And if you are, then you are the perfect sucker to get duped.
This seems to be the new modus operandi of fraudsters--inviting people to seminars, award ceremonies, and so on. Here are some basic rules you must follow, the next time you receive a similar mail:
- Go to Web sites like www.whois.com to check authenticity of the Web site.
- Always try to figure out who recommended your name. Even in this age of e-mail, Internet and social networking, most people rely on recommendations for awards, nominations, etc.
- Ask your colleagues and peers if they have heard of this organization.
- Never pay up for anything; especially if you are not familiar with the organization. Fraudsters initially tell you that they would pay for all your expenses but will later ask you to pay for hotel bookings, airlines and so on, (on the pretext that it will be reimbursed at a later date).
- Always ignore e-mail sent from Gmail, Hotmail and other such "free" e-mail IDs.
- Spread the word--let people know that you received such e-mail, letters and calls.