The newest multi-level marketing company also makes it mandatory for panellists to subscribe to its online magazine, while promising income on filling consumer feedback surveys
Voice of People (VOP), another Singapore-based multi-level marketing company, which like Speak Asia promises a weekly income on filling survey forms, has started operations in India. The company is called 'Voice of People Media & Advertising Pvt Ltd' and its business model is interestingly similar to Speak Asia, which is now under the scanner of the authorities for allegedly duping investors with dubious claims.
VOP launched its operations in India recently, with a registered office in Gurgaon, and it says that it is registered under the Companies Act of 1956.
The company guarantees a weekly income to panellists on filling the survey forms and it has an online magazine that panellists are required to subscribe to.
VOP says on its website that it is a pioneer online consumer feedback company and it claims to organise and provide consumer feedback to leading manufacturers and service providers through activities such as advertisements, television infomercials, website infomercials and product sales and references. Some of the big names it lists are Unilever, Proctor & Gamble and Cadburys.
People seeking to register as panellists require to pay Rs1,000 for a single registration and Rs2,750 for a tripod registration. VOP explains that there is no registration fee and that the charges are for the purchase of a start-up manual.
The start-up manual provides comprehensive information on participating in the consumer feedback activity along with information on new products and services.
However, a panellist from Bareilly, who invested in the company's plan, told Moneylife that he was asked to pay Rs11,000 as registration fee. The company apparently sends registered panellists two surveys weekly and pays them Rs500 for filling each survey.
The reward points earned by filling these surveys are reflected in the account of the panellist and the company assures that the payments will be made once it opens a bank account.
The dollar equivalent for a single subscription is $20. The subscription is valid for a maximum period of 52 weeks and one can earn reward points each worth 1$ through giving feedback.
VOP guarantees that once $80 or more is collected as reward points in the panellist's account, this can be redeemed against discount coupons, loyalty cards, gift vouchers, or against the product of one's choice from a prepared list.
Referring the scheme to a new person can earn a panellist 10% of the subscription amount by way of reward points and in addition 10% of the royalty once the new panellist completes the first consumer feedback.
Most of these cards were issued on applications by people who had lost their PAN cards, without realising that they should apply for duplicate cards on the old number
The Income-Tax Department has detected and destroyed 11.69 lakh multiple PAN cards found in the name of a single person, according to the latest information available. However, there is no information how many more such multiple cards exist.
Replying to a question on the issue in parliament earlier this month, minister of state for finance SS Palanimanickam said, "The Department has identified multiple PANs belonging to the same person through an automated computer system. Till date 11,69,238 multiple PANs have been detected and deleted."
A PAN (permanent account number) card is a photo identification that is now mandatory for major financial transactions and all banking business. They are issued by the Income-Tax Department on a simple application for a charge of Rs94. About 12.10 crore people have been issued PAN cards up to 31 March 2011, an increase of 26% from the year before.
According to the guidelines, owning more than one PAN card is against law and the person can be penalised for this.
Experts suggest that this phenomena is due to unawareness among the people, who commonly apply for a fresh PAN card on the loss of the card, when actually they should apply for a duplicate card giving the old number.
Multiple cards on the name of a single person also means difficulties for the I-T department to compute tax assessment with different PANs being used for different transactions.
In order to get over this problem of duplicate PAN cards, in April the government decided to start issuing biometric cards to taxpayers.
The real scams in the corporate world are seldom revealed, and this is a scam in itself, given that these same corporates expect transparency from others, not just in governance, but also from their employees
Here's a quick re-cap on some new scams that were discussed offline during the recently concluded 'Fraud Investigation and Control Knowledge Summit' in Delhi, how they can impact you and what steps you must take. (Read the earlier report, 'Learning the tools and processes to detect and control corporate fraud'.)
# The double-joined cheque fraud. In this case, the upper half of one cheque was cut along the line and joined very carefully with the lower already signed half of another cheque from the same bank, that was cut along the same line. The amount was substantially increased and a new name substituted. It was taped front and back, as is often done to protect the alpha-numerics, and presented. The cheque flowed through the cheque truncation system and was paid out.
The fraud came to light only when the accountholder reconciled the numbers. The original cheque was then sourced, and at first, nobody from either bank could figure out what went wrong. Especially since the person who had issued the cheque had retained a photocopy. Even the technician from the security press could find no flaws. Till the person who had signed the cheque recalled that he never put tape on the cheque. That's when they pulled the tape off from one side, and the cheque literally came apart.
# High quality photo-copies of blank cheques are first obtained, by some means or the other, by copying genuine blank cheque leaves, on paper matching as closely as possible the security paper on which cheques are printed. Next, the cheque filled and signed fraudulently, is issued and presented to a bank which is known to be part of the cheque truncation system on a high volume day, where it is likely to simply go with the flow. They even resolve the MICR part.
A bank employee will know by the feel and touch of the cheques issued by his own bank, whether it is genuine or not, but s/he may not know the touch and feel of cheques issued by all other banks. By the time the fraud is detected, the person who has collected the money on more than a few cheques in this manner has vanished. Nothing much you can do other than secure your blank cheque leaves.
# An acquaintance, or a tenant approaches you, saying that he has a problem with opening a bank account, so whether he can receive funds in your account, perhaps for a small commission? Since you may know the person, you agree, and after a few days a few cheques or transfers are deposited in your account. The acquaintance then requests you to withdraw the amount in cash, which you do, and then vanishes.
After some time, it turns out that your bank account was being used as a 'mule' to receive money drawn from a vast variety of frauds, and that you may now be liable. Incidentally, this can happen without your knowledge too, as somebody may simply deposit money in your account using pay-in slips or wire transfers, and then also quietly withdraw the funds in cahoots with the bank.
Simply keep checking your balance regularly, and refuse to let others use your account at all times. There is no dearth of cases where tenants or paying guests have used this method, cleaned out the accounts of the landlords and put them into trouble.
# In another case, a bank manager was issuing fake fixed deposit receipts to genuine customers, while issuing the genuine FD receipts for shorter tenures on a series of fake accounts. That he got caught before he could take it much further was sheer coincidence, during the investigation on some other unrelated issue, and one of the customers chose to visit the bank to terminate the FD early, and the game crumbled.
That was not all; further investigation revealed that the manager had faked all his educational qualifications, from the 10th standard onwards, and that he had played the fake FDs game at two other bank branches also, one of these of the same bank in another part of the country. His services were quietly terminated because no bank likes such publicity, it seems.
# In a large family-controlled business, one of the family directors took a lift from the CFO of one of the companies on a couple of occasions, and realized, that for a person drawing a Rs50 lakh per annum kind of salary, the CFO was doing well with cars, driving different brands of luxury cars every time. Quiet enquiries revealed that the CFO had a fairly impressive stable of cars, at which point it was decided that a discreet investigation be done, and in due course certain lacunae as well as corrupt practices were unearthed.
However, the CFO had kept a full record of all the financial games that the family had been playing for decades, and in the end, despite overwhelming evidence, they had to let him go, after agreeing to a decent severance package. This, by the way, is the stuff that urban legends are made of, except that in this case the name of the corporate was discussed over lunch, and this writer quietly double-checked matters.
# More than one of the consultants who participated in the conference mentioned how the transport fraud is one of the biggest issues with the new generation 24x7 companies, especially the IT and ITES companies, but how despite more than a few solutions available, the issue had become so deeply routed across companies, that it was difficult to withdraw from it.
Solutions like providing buses to nearest public transport points, providing dormitories on-site till the morning for night workers, or similar facilities, were simply trashed because the lobbies inhouse from HR, finance, admin and others were simply so strong that the concept of "removing call-centre cabs" was impossible to implement. It was also indicated that this was a quiet way to generate cash incomes for such companies, which otherwise had no cash components, inbound.
# Then there was, of course, the energetic discussion on how one-line bills from a variety of 'support services' like advertising agencies, PR agencies, 'consultants' and others were blatantly passed even by companies which otherwise carried the reputation of being absolutely lily-white and pure despite their histories and origins in the opium smuggling days.
Specific mention was made about the best corporates, based out of Mumbai for generations, but now increasingly with roots in Ireland for tax reasons, that are known to use specific ad agencies as well as religious leaders and their trusts for these monetary re-cycling efforts. At one time nobody would have dared even mention the names of these companies, but now, with the advent of more open information, these names were openly being discussed with little nuggets of information that could subsequently be checked quietly on the Internet, or with a little bit of spadework. Maybe that's why their corporate heads could sleep easier, knowing fully well that despite everything, they were always one step ahead of any fraud investigation.
In all this, it is easy to get lost in the 'smaller corruption' stories, which is what the mainstream media seems to be reverting to again. Let the truth be told, for with Anna Hazare out of the way, matters seem to be rapidly reverting to that sort of direction. But, the Internet is a strange organic creature, and unlike other media, simply refuses to let things get buried, so it does appear as though some issues will raise their heads again and again.
Readers are invited to let us know their views and experiences in the matter of corporate fraud in India. Identities will be, of course, be protected.