Catch 'em COVIFRAUDS: This young lawyer is helping those falling victim to medical fraud during COVID-19

There are various contact numbers of people who are 'selling' oxygen or medical supplies are floating around on all social media platforms
Ramanuj Mukherjee (Pic: Special Arrangement)
Ramanuj Mukherjee (Pic: Special Arrangement)

India is going through the roughest of patches in history. As the nation gasps for breath, it has become a haven for fraudulence and scams. When your loved ones need oxygen or life support, you wouldn't stop at anything to help them and that is what they are taking an advantage of. But Ramanuj Mukherjee, a 33-year-old lawyer turned EdTech entrepreneur, based in Delhi is here to help. He has set up a platform to provide legal help to such victims pro bono— he calls it Lawyers Against COVIFRAUDS.

Started about a month ago, the platform is now more than 100-lawyers strong. "I was reading about many fraudulent activities and it spiked over the past few months. I used to run a helpline for people who were victims of phishing so I had an idea of how they (fraudsters) pull it off and avoid the police and bypass the law. I think that similar people have been doing these COVID related frauds too," said Ramanuj. "Most of the cases are of people pretending to sell oxygen. They would even give you proof like GST numbers and various other details to convince you. And then you trust them and pay them, they would not just deliver," added Ramanuj, a graduate of the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata.

There are various contact numbers of people who are 'selling' oxygen or medical supplies are floating around on all social media platforms. "They are tracking people who are posting about the immediate need for oxygen or medicines. These fraudsters would go and comment on that post or contact the person saying that they have access to oxygen or the medicines they want and would ask for advance payments. Sometimes, they would text back in a few hours and say that something has happened and they have sourced some oxygen but now they would have to be paid more — if you had paid Rs 10,000 the first time, they might ask for another Rs 30,000 because the cost has gone up or for some dubious reason," he said.

The platform, which can be contacted via email and social media have been getting a lot of requests on posts but they need the victim to come forward and register a complaint. "We have lawyers who have volunteered from almost every state and it helps to file the complaint in the same place where the fraudsters are traced back to. We keep a track of the case and also provide help for getting the money back. If you have enough proof and the other account is seized by the police, the bank does help and give the money back after a few days," said Ramanuj who also runs an EdTech startup — LawSikho — that helps law students and lawyers gain practical knowledge. During the pandemic they have also started helping lawyers get trained in foreign laws and even find online employment as paralegals in other countries.

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