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OP-ED: Promises of la-la land

  • Published at 03:59 pm September 20th, 2020
Canadian passport canada

Our obsession with attaining a foreign passport is unhealthy

The most talked about news of the time is about a woman in her late thirties who gave matrimonial adverts on papers, identifying herself as a Canadian-Bangladeshi with a large business abroad, seeking a mature man to be her future husband. 

The “Bride and Groom Wanted” section is always a fun read and, in the 80s and 90s, the language used in these adverts reflected society’s obsession with men with spotless character (meaning no drinking or smoking) or women of demure and devout natures. However, in the current age, these adverts are not just harmless fun, but cause harm of the highest order.  

In the last few days, we came to know about a marriage scam syndicate which used to lure in elderly men with a desire to go to Canada and bamboozled them into parting with significant amounts of money. 

Obviously, the Canadian dream never materialized and the fraudsters disappeared soon after they had sucked the victim dry. 

Reportedly, this gang operated around one Sadiya Jannat, the woman con artist who posed as the divorcee with wealth and business in Canada. Quite a catch to many, no doubt!

As per CID information given to the press, this group has been in operation for around 10 years and, in their latest con job, allegedly took nearly Tk2 crore from a victim (or the mark, as they are called in the world of fraud).  

But there are several dimensions to the marriage con and especially fraudulent marriage schemes, involving immigration to a first world country. 

The foreign bug

Taking the latest case into context, we come to a mature man who had given a massive amount of money to Sadiya and then found her phone switched off. 

The question is, why did the man trust the woman in the first place when the marriage had not been solemnized yet and he had not visited Canada to see her so-called empire? 

The reason is simple really: The group of fraudsters has several members and some of them play the roles of family guardians who are supposedly well established in Dhaka, with their own homes and cars. 

Trust me, it does not take much to create an image of prosperity: A flat, a rented car, and some dapper clothes. 

In between conversation, drop in a few names of influential people and voila … there are gazes of admiration everywhere. 

Even if we take it that a woman with a marriage proposal is genuine, handing over money within a considerably short time is hardly a rational/sensible move. 

I personally think that two issues cloud our senses -- the attraction of going to a first-world country and the power of romance. Or, shall we say, the beguiling enchantment of a polished woman? 

The thing to note is that the paper adverts for marriage always mentioned mature men, which is possibly from 45 going up to 60. 

Understandably, deceiving men of that age bracket is possibly easier since they tend to be less distrustful and less familiar about the multi-faceted usage of modern tech in the world of vice. Sorry, no offense meant! 

Yet, in the end, we are talking not lakhs but crores and, when such amounts are involved, both young and old should be wary. 

Needless to say, the fixation with immigrating to a foreign land can kick out all logical thought. When such an offer is dangled, common sense is sometimes deliberately strangulated. 

The fascination to find milk, honey, and roses abroad persists at all social level -- at the bottom, the Middle Eastern dream still manages to lure people despite so many tales of horror, while at the higher layers, the pull factor is the passport of a developed country. 

Whatever the age, a man handing over large sums of money has to bring in a lawyer into the scene and, if the victims of Sadiya had done so, she would have been caught very early on in her game of deception. 

The irony is, there were lawyers involved, engaged by the fraudsters to make the scam appear credible. Whether these lawyers were real or impersonators we do not know but this much is clear: They played their parts to perfection in order to make Sadiya seem legitimate. 

The morale from Sadiya’s case: Next time, take your own lawyer, preferably a friend. 

Conned because of greed

The dimension of a con job which is hardly mentioned is the greed or the desire of the victim. Perhaps this will offend or hurt many, but the truth is that, if we are not overtaken by our desires, conning us would be tough. 

In Sadiya’s last case, in which the police investigated and busted the group, an elderly man was swindled of a hefty amount. 

Naturally, he did not go to Canada as promised and, at one point, agreed to stay in the country with Sadiya because she had reportedly told him of coming back to Bangladesh for good. 

The warning bells should have rung the moment there was a change of plans but did not because either the victim was head over heels for her, or perhaps was convinced by the gang’s elaborate presentation. 

To make the scam look as real as possible, Sadiya also used an interpreter, wore western clothes, and coloured her hair to appear like an expatriate Bangladeshi. 

The exotic look always manages to do the trick. People somehow get weak in the knees when they meet someone who lives overseas.   

However, blame also falls on those who are gullible enough to accept what they are told. The simple point is, we can believe up to a certain level. When paying money comes into the equation, all fantasies need to be minimized.

Come to think of it, there is plenty of outrage when someone charges us a little more, let’s say, for a CNG fare or maybe while buying something at the market. 

But while we throw a tantrum and refuse to part with a few additional hundreds, we are handing out millions just because we are believing what is being fed to us. 

Rudyard Kipling comes to mind: Words are the most powerful drugs used by man.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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