The police say the public needs to be vigilant against tricksters who use advertisements to cheat people, writes G. Anand.

Unable to get relief for his back pain despite months of various modes of treatment and therapy, a 30-year-old businessman from Neyyatinkara stumbled upon a newspaper advertisement that promised immediate relief from a range of commonplace ailments.

A self-styled oracle answered the man's query. The oracle divined that an ‘antique' treasure, that lay buried on the premises of the man's family home, was the cause of his troubles. The oracle invited himself over to the entrepreneur's house and dug up a small metal cauldron, earning his victim's confidence.

Deputy Superintendent of Police, Neyyatinkara, P. Gopakumar said it took the businessman a year and several lakhs of rupees (paid as consultancy fee to the oracle) to realise that he had been systematically cheated.

A police investigation revealed that the cauldron, a newly cast one, was planted at the spot earlier by the oracle's cronies.

Various ruses

In yet another startling case of confidence trickery, a gang contacted a builder and introduced themselves as dealers of rare antiques. They said a family in Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu wanted to sell an heirloom of theirs. They claimed that it was a ‘vedic-era' pot made of a rare alloy of ‘gold, copper, and iridium' and possessed magical properties. The pot attracted rice grains as a magnet would attract iron filings and, when placed near a lighted candle, it caused the flame to bend towards it.

The racketeers convinced the builder of the pot's worth by stating that a foreign collector had also evinced interest in buying it.

The builder agreed to pay Rs.50 lakh and the deal was transacted in a darkened room at a lodge in Tiruchirapalli. The police said the suspects used a set of school-level science tricks to convince the builder about the pot's ‘magical properties.' For one, they gave the pot a coat of phosphorous to make it glow in darkness.

The suspects gave the pot to the builder wrapped in several layers of carbon paper. They warned him that the pot's magical properties would interfere with the power transmission and mobile networks in Tiruchirapalli and the electric circuitry of his expensive car if uncovered. They told the builder to take the pot out of its wrapper only after he reached home.

On reaching home, the builder was shocked to learn that the swindlers had sold him an ordinary cooking pot costing less than Rs.200 for Rs.50 lakh. He alerted the police.

The gang members, who went underground, were subsequently arrested.

The police said the public needed to be vigilant against an emerging breed of confidence tricksters who used media advertisements and persuasive marketing skills to cheat gullible citizens.

They said the new trend was to sell commonplace objects, mainly metal cooking pots and cauldrons, as ‘high-value' antiques possessing magical properties.

They pointed out that ‘power antiques,' trinkets of little value, were advertised regularly on television and priced exorbitantly. The regularity of the advertisements indicated that the swindlers had found a vibrant market in the State, they said.