Beware of white collar crooks

"It was such a reputed company, I never imagined even in my dreams that it would cheat gullible investors in such a manner".

This is the refrain of persons who are fooled by fly-by-night chit fund and finance companies, real (or rather fake) estate dealers, job racketeers and the like. The technological advances like e-banking, ATMs and credit cards have broadened the sphere of white collar crimes.

The term `white collar crime' is applied to crimes associated with business that does not involve violence or bodily injury to another person. These include defrauding banks by making false statements to obtain loans, filing false reports or returns with government agencies, embezzlement of funds, using the mail or wire communications to defraud and paying or accepting bribes.

The lure for a little extra money in the form of additional interest, exponential growth in land prices and the dream of going abroad in search of greener pastures are some of the reasons for people falling a prey to dubious characters. The drop in interest rates on deposits by banks is another major reason for investors to risk their money in run-of-the-mill chit fund companies, which offer better returns apart from giving them the option of participating in the auction to withdraw the funds in advance.

The over-smart offenders are always on the look-out for spreading their tentacles and trying their luck in new and unexplored areas. Even physically challenged persons are not spared by these unscrupulous elements. An impostor, posing as an employee of the Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (VMC), collected money from the disabled persons living in Gopalapatnam, Kancharapalem and Gajuwaka areas, saying that they were sanctioned loans by the Government. The accused even flashed some card to show prove his VMC identity. He collected money from the gullible disabled persons and even gave them some chits of paper asking them to meet him in the VMC office on a particular day to collect the loans.

The poor victims realised their folly when they went to the corporation office and found that there was no employee by that name.

As many as 198 employees of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant were cheated by a landowner to the tune of Rs.96 lakhs by selling them 21 acres of land. Even as the employees were planning to construct houses, they learnt that the accused had sold the same land to another buyer.

Satish Raman Nair, who had worked for some time at a hotel in Singapore was deported for overstaying. After returning to Visakhapatnam he hit upon a novel plan to make easy money. He placed an advertisement in newspapers calling candidates for the vacancies like electricians, masons, data entry operators, office assistants and attendants.

He and his accomplice, Sahoo Gangadhar Atingar, floated a fake recruiting agency at Dabagardens and conducted interviews there. They selected 40 candidates and collected Rs.7.5 lakhs from them promising to get various clearances.

The accused were arrested at the Railway Station as they were trying to flee the city. Nair had obtained a fake passport from the Passport Office in Ahmedabad by giving false information that he was a resident of that city.

In another recent case, M. Rajesh of Dwarakanagar and P. Ramana of Secunderabad had submitted forged documents in a bid to obtain a passport in the name of V. Sunil. The accused are still at large.

"We have introduced certain security features like machine-writing and digital scanning of photographs and signatures of the applicants to minimise the chances of malpractices," says the Passport Officer, Abhilasha Joshi.

"However, the certificates and documents produced by the applicants are taken at face value and there would be little chance of finding out at our end whether they are genuine or otherwise at our end. Previously we have been issuing passports without waiting for the police verification report to reduce delays but now in view of the increasing number of forgery cases, we are invariably waiting for the verification reports before issuing the passports," she says.

A retired junior telecom officer, M. Jiyyanna, is running from pillar to post after his funds to the tune of Rs.1.5 lakhs were held up in the defunct Ram Kashyap Chits, which had its head office in Tamil Nadu. He opened the first chit for a sum of Rs.1 lakh (Rs.2000 x 50 months) in April 1997 and another chit (Rs.1000 x 50 months) in December the same year. The company had branches in Hyderabad and Chennai and was doing good business.

"Initially, the company had its branch office at Dwarakanagar. The office was shifted to Shantipuram and then Madhuranagar before winding up. I learnt that the company had placed the deposits in its sister concern and its office at Mylapore is still there," says Jiyyanna innocently.

The Commissioner of Police, B. Prasada Rao, has issued a non-bailable warrant against the operator of the company's branch office but the same could not be executed as the accused is absconding from the city.

In their mad rush to be one up in the game, banks are sanctioning loans left, right and centre, often ignoring the norms in the verification of documents. A foreign bank in the metro has woken up a little late after advancing Rs.68 lakhs to eight persons on fake documents!

The managing partner and other partners of an aquaculture farm had obtained a loan of Rs.51,60,508 from the District Cooperative Central Bank in 1993 by offering two securities, one as primary security at Gogula Lanka and the other at Ganjipeta as collateral. Later, the accused sold away the collateral security by constructing 25 flats, without informing the bank.

The accused failed to repay the loan amount taken and thereby cheated the bank as well as the flat owners by concealing the truth. On a complaint filed by the bank's general manager, Ch. Sreerama Chandra Murthy, the police arrested the prime accused in December 2002 and are on the look-out for the other accused in the case.

"Dealing with white collar crimes requires staff who are trained to tackle such cases. Unlike the regular crime cases, the white collar crimes cannot be detected easily as the accused would have already taken adequate precautions to conceal his misdeeds," says the Assistant Commissioner of Police (crimes), S. Rama Rao.

It is high time that special training was given to policemen and separate cells were created to tackle the menace of white collar crimes, which is increasing at an alarming pace.