This is a new fraud on email that uses the names of Grameen Foundation, and Nobel Peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus, to lure gullible people
A new mail is doing the rounds over the Internet, seeking to give money for a noble cause to the 'chosen' recipient. The email, under the name of Grameen Foundation, is nothing but a fraud and it has nothing to do with the Foundation by the same name that was founded to follow the model of Grameen Bank beyond the borders of Bangladesh to help poor people. But more about Grameen Foundation later.
The scamsters have not just used Grameen Foundation's name as the sender, but they have also provided the registered office address, the website link, and used the name of Paul Maritz, the chair of the Foundation. However, one look at the email ID from where it originates, immediately reveals the hidden face of the scamsters and their agenda.
The email reads: "To celebrate the new year 35th anniversary program, Grameen Foundation is giving out a yearly donation of 950,000.00 (nine hundred and fifty thousand Great Britain pounds) to 10 lucky recipients, by which at least 15% of the awarded funds should be used by you to develop a part of your environment. This is a yearly program which is a measure of universal development strategy. You are to contact Rosanna Ramos-Velita, Treasurer (email@example.com) with your PIN number (GF.101) in order to redeem your grant and get more information."
The question is, when the Foundation itself needs donations, funding, to run its projects, why would it give money to people like you and me? Why would some one who does not know us shell out 9.5 lakh pounds (about Rs6.87 crore) through an email. Besides, the email says that you must spend a minimum 15% of this amount for development of your environment. In other words, you can spend the rest of the amount for your own development!
Clearly, this is yet another fraud in progress, aimed at gullible people who are lured by lotteries or free money schemes. So, if you receive such a message, delete it immediately. Here are some points to keep in mind to help you identify such fake and fraud messages. Such scams are widespread, so governments and web sites like www.truthorfiction.com, www.fraudwatchers.org or www.scambaits.com, are giving special attention to the matter, to warn and help potential victims and catch scamsters. The web site of the Nigerian Central Bank has a warning on the home page that says, "If it looks too good to be true, it usually is." The US Secret Service and the British National Criminal Intelligence Service also undertake investigations regularly and issue warnings to people constantly.
Now about the Grameen Foundation. It is a global non-profit organisation based in Washington that aims to increase access of poor people to microfinance, like it has successfully done thrugh Grameen Bank which was set up by Nobel Peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus. The Foundation helps the world's poorest, especially women, to improve their lives through access to microfinance and technology. Being a non-profit organisation, it needs donations from people to implement its projects.
Mangalore-based Vishal Rao creates ‘RuinedMyTrip’, which appears in the top search results for ‘MakeMyTrip’ on Google, to avenge cheating by the travel portal
Feeling cheated by a company, either because of unfair treatment or poor services, many of us would usually end up staying silent. Yes, in the head of the moment, we'd get angry and some of us may even vent the anger on the company's staff. Still fewer would choose to take legal recourse through the consumer court, where the battle could be long. But here's an example of a person who chose to use his skills with the Internet to fight against injustice.
Mangalore-based Vishal Rao was cheated by the online travel agency MakeMyTrip. He had decided to spend Christmas 2010 along with his family in Mysore. So he made the bookings through the online agency well in advance. Imagine his surprise when he was denied accommodation at any hotel in the tourist city.
MakeMyTrip had accepted the necessary payments and even sent him an e-mail confirming the booking, but he found that the agency had not made the hotel reservation. "In fact, in the confirmation voucher which was sent through e-mail, apart from the check-in date and time, it was also stated that 'your booking is confirmed and you are not required to contact the hotel or MakeMyTrip to reconfirm the same'," Mr Rao says.
Aggrieved by this treatment, Mr Rao created a blog, 'Ruined My Trip', to make people aware about his experience and the unfair business practice by the company.
There are hundreds of such blogs highlighting consumer complaints on the Net and most of them are hardly noticed, barely receiving a comment or two. Unfortunately for MakeMyTrip, the blog 'Ruined My Trip' turned out to be different.
Being, an expert in the web business, Mr Rao used his skills in the search engine optimization (SEO) area to push his blog into the top ten Google search results for 'Make My Trip'!
"I could (have) filed a case in court against MakeMyTrip.com and this could have taken years, or write a review on the net. I checked mouthshut.com and was surprised to see that there were hundreds of others with similar experiences. But this made no difference to them (the company), simply because the reviews were not showing up in the results when searching directly for 'Make My Trip' or 'MakeMyTrip.com'," he says.
"I decided to create a dedicated web site documenting my experience and allowing others to share theirs too. I used my SEO experience to make this website (to) show up in the top ten Google results when people searched for 'Make My Trip' or 'MakeMyTrip.com'. So nobody will have to go through the horrifying ordeal I have gone through. This was far more satisfying for me than filing a court case against them."
Mr Rao warns the offending companies: "Don't take your customers for a ride. You never know when one of them will turn out to be smarter than you."
Talking about his Mysore experience, Mr Rao said that when he inquired why no hotel room was booked for him, he found out that MakeMyTrip staff called the manager of the hotel only at noon on the day he was to check in. "I (had) booked the rooms on 15th December and they called the hotel on the day I was to check in, to confirm the booking."
Mr Rao managed to get rooms at another hotel and enjoyed the holiday with his family. A few days later, the company wrote saying, "We are really sorry and you'll get a refund within seven days".
"They (MakeMyTrip.com) have a full-time SEO team to make sure that none of the negative reviews crop up in the top ten results. As you can see, almost all the sites in the top ten results are their own sites, which easily distract people," Mr Rao explained. MakeMyTrip even offered him a gift voucher of Rs10,000, which Mr Rao refused.
Blaming system error for non-booking at the hotel in time for Mr Rao, MakeMyTrip, in an email said,"The customer in question had booked a hotel on our portal. However, the online booking could not get confirmed due to a system error. As a process of reconfirmation, we contacted the hotel on the day of check-in, but the hotel was sold out. Our team tried to reach out to the customer but unfortunately could not connect with him. We did connect with the customer later on and offered a full refund on the booking; we deeply regret the inconvenience caused. Upon checking the customer's blog, we reconnected with him and relooked at all details on our end. The case was further analyzed by higher authorities and as a gesture we offered the customer a MakeMyTrip voucher."
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Supply of LPG as kitchen fuel is covered by the Essential Commodities Act, which requires the cylinder to be delivered at home within 48 hours of booking. However, many get it up to a week or even a fortnight later. Some activists have invoked the RTI Act successfully to shake up the oil companies and the gas agencies
LPG kitchen fuel is covered by the Essential Commodities Act. But how often has the gas agency not taken you for a ride, rarely delivering the gas cylinder within the stipulated 48 hours? A common complaint is that it takes up to a fortnight to get a gas cylinder at home. Or, that no one answers the phone at the agency. So, you have to go personally to the agency to pick up a cylinder. Or, you may have doubts over the weight of the cylinder.
So, what are the rights of consumers under the Essential Commodities Act 1955 and the corresponding LPG (Regular Supply & Distribution) Order 2000? Here are some not-so-well-known aspects.
* Bookings for the gas cylinder must be accepted over the phone.
* 100% home delivery.
* The gas cylinder should to be delivered within 48 hours of booking.
* The customer has the right to weigh the cylinder on taking delivery.
* Gas agencies must be open for business between 10 am and 6 pm, except on public holidays and Sundays.
Now, were you aware that a gas agency must accept bookings for cylinders over the phone and that you should not be asked to collect the cylinder from the agency office (for the purpose of safety)? And that it is mandatory for the delivery man to carry a portable weighing machine and weigh the cylinder at your doorstep?
And are you aware that most of the times the LPG shortage story concocted by gas agencies is absolutely false? That it is because the agencies indulge in large-scale illegal sale of domestic cylinders to commercial establishments that you do not get your cylinder in time? Look around and you will find that street-side vendors and even kitchens of big restaurants use the red-colour gas cylinder (that is supposed to be only for domestic use) and not the blue-colour ones (which is meant for commercial establishments and is more expensive).
Recently, former petroleum minister Ram Naik stated that scarcity of LPG cylinders has reached dangerous proportions all over the country and he requested Jaipal Reddy, the current petroleum minister, to check this. Many a time, the ministry of petroleum releases advertisements to announce that there is no scarcity of LPG cylinders. Hence, almost always, the root of the problem is the illegal sale of cylinders, and so you as a domestic consumer must not take this injustice lying down. Invoke RTI to scare the gas agency and compel him to do his duty.
In Pune, for example, a leading LPG distributor stated that around one and a half lakh domestic gas cylinders are sold to commercial establishments, thus the delay in delivering cylinders to homes. The problem is never sternly addressed by the district collectorate and the petroleum company, putting the housewife to constant inconvenience.
Pune-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar has made it his mission to help people overcome poor service by gas agencies. His own experience steered him to help others. Way back in 2005, he was hassled with his gas agency who took three weeks or more to deliver the cylinder. He addressed a query under RTI to the Hindustan Petroleum Company (HPCL) asking for details of the distribution of cylinders by Kankaria Gas agency in New Sangvi (a fringe neighbourhood of Pune). The questions in his RTI application were as follows:
1) How many domestic and commercial cylinder gas customers does Kankaria Gas Agency have (the period of information was for one and a half year) and if there was any fluctuation in the number of customers in any month;
2) The number of domestic and commercial customers having one, two, and more than two gas cylinders?
3) Between 1 September 2005 and 30 November 2005 how many gas cylinders did the Kankaria Gas Agency procure from HPCL (information to be given date-wise); and
4) Whether HPCL has taken action against any gas agency in Pune regarding the erratic distribution of gas cylinders-if so, the names of such agencies.
While the officer is allowed by law to take 30 days to answer a query, Mr Kumbhar got a shock when, within two hours of his filing the RTI application, his wife called him to say that the dealer had sent the gas cylinder. This showed a strange nexus between the gas agency and some officials at HPCL. Ever since, Mr Kumbhar has urged many people to invoke the RTI and remind the respective gas agency that it cannot take consumers for a ride.
There are three main LPG suppliers-Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (www.hindustanpetroleum.com), Bharat Petroleum (www.bharatpetroleum.com) and Indian Oil Corporation (www.iocl.com). In order to file an RTI application under Section 6 of the RTI Act, you should visit their websites depending on which LPG gas you are using and click where the names of Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) are given, depending on which city/town you reside.
As per a central government gazette notification on 26 April 2000, the dealer of LPG is required to display the stock of LPG as follows:
Sometime in 2005, the then Sangli collector Manish Mhaiskar had raided all gas agencies in Sangli and taken action against those indulging in blackmarketing and delaying delivery. For more than a couple of years thereafter, Sangli had the best record of door delivery within the prescribed time. It is necessary for the collector's office to take such action and sustain it.
In case you are harassed by delay in delivery, you may ask the following questions under RTI, addressing it to the PIO of the particular petroleum/oil company under which your gas agency operates:
1) How many domestic and commercial cylinder gas customers does the (write name here) gas agency have (the period of information could be 10 days) and if there has been any fluctuation in the number of customers in any month.
2) The number of domestic and commercial customers having one, two, and more than two gas cylinders.
3) In the 10-day period, how many gas cylinders did the gas agency procure from the petroleum/oil company (details of demand and supply to be given date-wise)?
4) Details of the demand and supply of cylinders to customers of the particular gas agency (for the 10 days) to be given in the following format.
5) Whether the petroleum/oil company has taken any action against any gas agency regarding erratic distribution of gas cylinders; if so, the names of such agencies and the details of action taken.
Believe it or not, it works like magic.
Here are some things to keep in mind about your gas connection.
When receiving the gas cylinder, you should be vigilant about
When taking a new connection, remember it is not mandatory to buy the gas stove, mixer, pressure cooker, tea boxes or any other consumer product.
Ask for a complete breakup of the cost at the time of paying for a new connection. This includes the deposit, regulator charges, cost of cylinder, stamp duty, documentation and administration charges, and in case you are not buying a gas stove, some basic charge to inspect the gas stove at your house as a safety measure.
And some safety tips
And if you feel inspired to do more, when you find restaurants using domestic cylinders, report this misuse to the concerned authorities.
(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)