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OP-ED: Falling into the honey trap

  • Published at 01:56 am March 15th, 2021
Representational photo BIGSTOCK

The rise in urban crimes should make us all more cautious

It’s another tale of depravity, involving a fraudster called Rumana. The murky world of this woman came to the fore when an expat went to the police with the complaint of a massive swindle involving around Tk2 crore.

As per the testimony of the victim, Rumana laid a honey trap, lured him into her world of subterfuge, forced him to marry her, and then took photos of the man in compromising situations.

With urban crimes taking new forms, there seems to be a surge of criminal activities, with many involving women.

The sudden increase of fraud

We have come across a variety of fraudsters in the last few months, from one young person posing as a top government official who took large amounts of money from people with promises of employment, to organized scams that involved a woman officer within the Chittagong port authority office, to an organized ring hoodwinking job seekers in the defence forces.

Scams seem to be ubiquitous. What is most disconcerting is that in modern day fraud, women are playing leading roles. Society has been conditioned to believe that no immoral act can be done by a woman. Exploiting this age-old notion, several unscrupulous enterprises put women on the front to gain credibility.

Fraud is nothing new in Bangladesh; in the 70s, just after independence, with the economy still in tatters, the major objective of many young men was to go to the middle-east to change their fortunes. In the early 70s, there was massive money to be made by working in the oil-rich countries.

Countless companies sprang up almost overnight offering jobs abroad, and after these dubious companies collected the money, their offices suddenly shut down, thus giving them the name “Hai Hai Company.”

But in these scams, women hardly had any role. In the modern contest, con jobs have too many complex dimensions, and Rumana fits into one which relies heavily on mobile-based chatting platforms.

Countless young men who work overseas use phone-based talking boards, where they spend hours in the virtual company of women. In these arrangements, the women involved provide humorous entertainment, while in more risqué ones, the women dance in front of the camera, sometimes in attire requested by the men based overseas, or in some other town or district. In return, the men have to send money by mobile transfer using one of the many services available.

Naturally, for people leading strenuous lives abroad, any feminine company is like a pick-me-up, but what often starts as a few hours of mental refreshment soon becomes an obsession.

Women like Rumana can easily sense a person who is becoming dependent psychologically and then their game of deceit starts. In the case of her victim who went to the police for help, the man was so besotted with her that he left his wife and, at Rumana’s request, also bought a flat. Soon, the whole family of the woman was living off this person who discovered that the soft-spoken woman who had mesmerized him was actually the engineer of his destruction. 

While digging into Rumana’s antecedents, the police have come across more than 20 such cases where men living overseas were targeted and ended up giving her money.

A deeper social affliction

No fraud can take place unless there is a yearning for something. Let’s take employment frauds which are quite common. In a recent case, a 20-something charlatan was caught; he used to go to different rural areas, claimed to be a high ranking government official, and took money from people seeking jobs in government departments.

Those who pay money to secure jobs cannot be spared of criticism because, in their blind desire to get a government post, they simply failed to use reason.

On the other side, the rise of job-related fraud also underlines a deeper social affliction -- the belief that unless money is paid, jobs cannot be obtained. If such shady deals did not happen all around us, there would be no reason for people to feel that jobs cannot be ensured without sharp practice.

Swindlers thrive when general people believe that without taking illicit routes, employment is impossible. Also, within larger society, the tendency to get something fast without following the legitimate path is another cause providing impetus for con artists.

Scamsters never lose the swagger

A common trait seen in almost all swindlers is an air of nonchalant arrogance. 

In the latest case of Ruamana, who lured countless people into her web of perfidy and then finagled millions off them, her body language in custody sent a signal of defiance.

She did not seem ruffled or perturbed, and neither did she try to avoid the camera. 

Rumana was caught on camera moving about as if the press was not even there. Such confidence after being caught only emboldens other fraudsters out there.

One possible reason for such a devil-may-care attitude may be that the law has too many loopholes which fraudsters can and do use to come out of prison within a short time. 

Be that as it may, the lesson is that if we can curb our desire to circumvent legal steps for a quick way to fortune, most con artists will be out of victims.

For any expatriate living far away, it’s only natural to feel the urge to talk to people in Bangladesh. However, such engagements should only be for light mental distraction. Deeper relations without face-to-face meetings and proper background checks may lead to devastating consequences. 

Logic doesn’t work when the heart takes over, though the busting of so many fraudsters should make us a little more cautious.

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