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The Customs Money Transfer Scam in India

Have you ever received an email or phone call from the customs department to make payment to release a parcel sent in your name, which is stuck at the airport? 

OR

A friend whom you got acquainted online is asking you to pay money to customs to release a gift they sent to you from abroad? 

Either way, hold on! Do not proceed, as you are about to get scammed!

Scammers have been on a roll targeting people via calls, emails pretending as a customs officer, a bank official, a parcel carrier or even as a guy/girl whom you met on a matrimonial site! Yes, you heard it right! 

Let’s take a swim through the murky waters of the customs money transfer scam in India.

The Scam

  • The beginning – The scam begins when the scammer befriends the victim on social media.

    This could be through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Email or even through a matrimonial website!

    Their usual targets are young men from semi-urban areas and men above the age of 60. The scammers will pretend to be a young lady (usually from abroad).

    The logic behind targeting this group is that the scammers feel most people in this group are not tech-savvy and thus would not be able to easily find out that they are being scammed. That makes for easy victims.

    Sometimes, they also create fake profiles on matrimonial websites, as that of a successful guy settled abroad and target women.


  • Laying the trap – The next step is that the scammers will usually maintain a high profile image on their social media accounts to impress their prey.

    On seeing the profile, the victims will fall into the illusion that scammers are genuine and respond positively which results in establishing a strong trust. The rest of the game is built on the victim’s trust.

    Once a good rapport has been created between the scammer and the victim, the scam starts to unfold. 


  • Sending a “gift” – The scammer would claim to have sent a “gift” to the victim from abroad.
    To make the victim believe, the scammer would send photographs of some very expensive and exquisite gifts. 


  • “Gift” stuck at customs – In a few days time, the victim will receive a call/mail or message from someone claiming to be an official from the Customs Department or a courier service guy asking to pay money to release the “gift” parcel which is stuck at the airport.

    Usually, the caller will claim that the “gift” parcel contains a large amount of foreign currency which has been confiscated. 


  • Paying money to free the “gift” – As a penalty, the victim will be asked to pay a percentage of the total foreign currency found in the “gift”. This may be justified as tax for receiving the amount

    The money would be asked to be sent via UPI method through Paytm, Google Pay, PhonePe, BHIM or through NEFT NetBanking.

    Out of trust and repeated requests from the scammer, the victim would generally do this without being suspicious.

If the scammer manages to convince the victim to pay this money for the first time, then, unfortunately, the victim has entered a dangerous loop. 

The scammer would come back again saying the amount already paid is not enough and demand more money. 

Since by this time the victim is financially and emotionally invested in this lie, they would most likely pay the money again. 

Only a few people probably start to get suspicious at this point and start looking for answers online. 

How To Detect This Scam?

The scam is quite easy to detect if you know what are the things that are being done incorrectly by the scammer. 

1. Identifying fake profiles on social media

  • When a random stranger sends a friend request to you over social media, Check if their profile has pictures of the actual person.

    A scammer usually will have very fewer pictures of the person they are pretending to be. Most of the pictures will be of random things like cars, houses etc.
  • Do a reverse image search of their profile picture. You’ll get results of various websites where their photo is hosted.

    This way you can find out if the person using this photo across different social media platforms is having the same name or not.

    You may also learn more about this person. That’ll help you evaluate how genuine they are.

    This is one of the easiest ways to detect a fake profile.

    Reverse Image Search can be performed via – Google.com, Tineye.com

2. Ask for “Tracking ID” of the “gift” parcel sent to you

When someone sends you a parcel/courier from abroad to India (or even within India), it is usually through a courier or postal service.

In such cases, the service provider will give a tracking ID to the sender, which can be used to track its status.

So when someone claims that they’ve sent you a “gift” parcel, ask them to share the tracking ID and the website of the courier service to verify that the parcel is indeed on its way to you.

If they are unable to do this, it’s a pretty telltale sign their “gift” parcel actually does not exist. 

3. How customs raises an issue with a parcel from abroad

First and foremost, you will never receive a call or email from the customs department asking you to pay some random amount. 

When customs wants to raise an issue with a parcel or package being imported from abroad, they send an official notification letter via post to the receiver. 

In this letter, they’ll be mentioning their concerns and whether any duty/tax has to be paid to them and if so how this payment needs to be done. 

Usually the payment is done by directly visiting the concerned airport where the parcel is stuck and paying the due amount to the customs department there. You’ll receive a receipt for this.  

So if you get a call from someone claiming to be from customs, ignore it as it is a clear case of fraudulent activity.

4. Can money be transferred in a courier package as a “Gift”?

One of the biggest clues in unravelling this scam is when the scammer claims that they’ve sent money in the “gift” parcel. 

As per law, it is illegal to send currency notes and coins by mail or courier service. Courier services such as DTDC, DHL, FedEx etc will check for the presence of money in their packages. If found, they won’t allow it to be shipped and will ask the sender to remove such items.

A person from abroad can legally send money to you in India through online payment services like PayPal or through direct bank transfer. This is done by initiating a “Wire Transfer” from their bank account abroad to your bank account in India.

So if a person claims they’ve sent you money in a “gift” parcel, straightaway understands that they are trying to scam you. 

5. Is tax applicable on money received from abroad and who collects it?

Another important point to consider to identify this scam is when the scammer mentions paying customs duty/tax on the money they sent in their “gift” parcel for you.

As mentioned above, money can’t be sent via a “gift” parcel to India. 

Also, it is not the role of customs to demand tax on the money being received by you. That is the job of the income tax department and it should be dealt with at the time of filing your IT returns.

So their claim of needing to pay customs duty for receiving money from abroad is a big fat lie.

 

As per Indian tax laws, If you are receiving money from a close relative abroad, you need not pay a single rupee tax on that amount. It is treated as a tax-free gift by the Income Tax department.

However, if you are receiving money from abroad and the sender is not related to you, then any amount over Rs. 50,000  will be liable to be taxed as your income. You’d have to pay income tax on the excess amount.

 

Some Common Scam Scenarios To Look Out For;

 

  • When you are suddenly contacted by a stranger via calls, emails or by social media platforms.
  • When you are asked to transfer money unexpectedly to unknown accounts.
  • When you are asked to click on any link in a text message or email to verify your bank account.

 

Basically, any condition/deal that seems too good to be true could be mostly a fraud. 

Be vigilant and act smart and report any suspicious to the Website of Serious Fraud Investigation Office.

Don’t get scammed.

 

Also read: Tax Implications On Money Transferred From Abroad To India

 

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