Earlier today, the Times of India reported an incident where the assistant manager of a corporate house dealing with mechanical equipment and accessories, was duped out of ₹99,966 through an online payment app. A few months ago, ItsGoa did a report on how a man from Merces almost fell prey to a scam, involving the sale of a secondhand guitar on OLX.com. Everywhere you turn, there is a scam waiting to trap unsuspecting victims. Here in Goa, there are tons of them, but none more infamous than the popular ‘Gem Scam’ that has already looted dozens of unsuspecting foreigners.
A gem of a scam
The Goa Gem Scam is ingenious. Unlike other scams that seem fishy because there is some element of money being asked upfront, the Gem Scam works because the ‘mark’ is only asked to do a simple favour. There’s no money involved, just a little bit of goodwill. On the surface, it looks completely innocent, foolproof, and if executed well, can be very convincing. In fact, the Gem Scam is so convincing, the marks are chosen based on the fact that they are smart, upstanding people who on any ordinary day would have been quite suspect of something so out of the ordinary. Those who have fallen victim to the Gem Scam have often admitted that during the entire duration of the scam they felt that they were doing the ‘right thing’ and just being helpful – and therein lies the crux of this ingenious con.
Finding the mark
The Gem scam is made up of a few moving parts, and requires a team of at least two conmen, with a few connections in the right places. This is how it plays out.
- The roper looks for a foreigner who’s on the trot. The kind who is probably a backpacker or traveller, and likely to be travelling out of India to a foreign destination. He will often find this kind of person through bike or accommodation rentals and befriends them over the course of a few days.
- The roper chats up the ‘mark’, discussing things like travel and staying in India, owning a business or real estate. The roper will often allude to and question the fact that most foreigners are not friendly to Indians abroad. This is done to instil a sense of guilt in the mark which will come in handy later on.
- Once the roper is satisfied that he has found a mark that could be duped, he brings in the fixer. The fixer is supposedly a wealthy jewellery and gems dealer. He plays the part of the roper’s friend and joins in the conversation.
- During the course of the conversation (which is probably at some fancy resort or other), the fixer will ask where the mark is travelling to next. When the mark tells him the location, the fixer asks for a ‘simple favour’.
- The fixer asks the mark to mail a small package of precious gems to the foreign country they are travelling to, and once the mark reaches there, hand the package over to a shop that the fixer supposedly owns. The fixer says this is to avoid paying thousands of Pounds in customs if it has to be done through the post. He even offers some money that will be paid to the mark once the transaction is complete.
- This sounds simple enough to the mark because it’s a small favour, and he doesn’t want to be rude. It also seems innocent enough since there is no money being asked of the mark. Instead, the mark is the one getting paid eventually. There is no reason to be suspicious, and so he goes ahead with it. But that’s when the real con begins.
Pulling off the con
The first part of the con is pretty simple. It revolves around friendly conversation and some flashy jewellery. The next part, however, is where things get scary, and needs to be played to perfection.
- Once the mark agrees, he accompanies the fixer and the roper to the post office where they mail the parcel of precious stones (and supposed validity documents) to the mark’s address in the foreign country. In some cases, the address has been so vague, it catches the mark’s attention. But for the most part, the act of mailing a parcel is so trivial, they let it go.
- At this point, the mark is told by the fixer that a person from customs may call to verify that the package was indeed sent by the mark, and he might ask for confirmation. A simple verification of credit in the form of a credit card is more than sufficient. And they all part ways.
- A couple of days later, the mark gets a call from an unknown number. It’s someone from ‘customs’ apparently, calling to verify the authenticity of the gems. He asks the mark for proof of purchase to prove that the gems were not stolen, and payment towards customs duty. Since the mark has no proof of purchase, he calls the fixer or the roper.
- At this point, the fixer and the roper start freaking out because there is no proof of purchase, and this is where things get scary. They tell the mark that there is a very high chance that the mark is going to end up in jail for the smuggling of precious stones if he doesn’t show proof of purchase. They insist that two payments be made immediately. One to the customs account, and one to a local jeweller to prove that the gems were bought.
- Depending on the level of the con, some con-artists take the mark to a legitimate jewellery shop where the payment is made. This particular jeweller is of course in on the scam. Other times, the fixer will bring a chip and PIN machine to swipe the mark’s debit or credit card. This is the only stage in the con where money is transferred, and it’s always a large amount. Usually between 5000 and 10,000 Pounds
- Once the payment is made, the fixer and the roper insist that the mark fly out immediately and retrieve the gems. If tickets are to be arranged, the fixer will usually do that. They ensure that the mark takes the next flight out so that the gems can be picked up from customs. The fixer assures the mark that the money paid for the jewels, the customs duty, and the original sum promised will all be paid on landing in the foreign country.
- Needless to say, when the mark does arrive in that foreign country, all that’s waiting for them is a package of worthless gems.
Tying up loose ends
The success of the Goa Gem Scam lies in the fact that it’s executed over a very brief period, during which the mark is kept engaged all the time. This sometimes means going as far as accommodating the mark in a fancy resort and taking them out for lunches and dinners. As long as the mark sees and experiences a certain level of affluence, they will not suspect anything. It’s also imperative that during that time, the mark doesn’t make any contact with friends, family or other tourists.
The infamous Goa Gem Scam has been famously reported by at least four to five people so far, although it has been faced by countless others, not only in Goa, but other parts of the country as well. While the scam described above covers the basic con, some travellers have faced more elaborate versions that have spanned weeks and involved a number of grifters posing as friends, associates, jewellers, and other vital roles. You can read about the experience of Sarah Bowles here where she lost 6,500 Pounds, and another instance here, where the mark lost 50,000 Euros. In one particular instance, a German woman lost over 30,000 Euros, and continued getting scammed even after having left the country.
What do you think of the Goa Gem scam? Would you have fallen for it if you weren’t aware? Let us know in the comments below.