Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Much ado about email

A strange thing happened yesterday. My office got an email from Kishwar Naheed, prominent Pakistani poet and writer, which said she was held up at gunpoint while returning to her hotel last night in London. The mail said that except for her passport she was dispossessed of all her valuables, including all her money and credit cards, and she was in a shock and not feeling safe any more – she needed my help.
When my office informed me I was surprised. This type of incidents are still quite unusual despite the fact that London today is no more what it used to be 10 years back when I stayed there. I told my office to ask for her contact details and within five minutes an email came from her claiming she had very limited access to the computer, no money and the hotel was not allowing her to check out without clearing her dues. The mail also gave the details of her Western Union Money Transfer along with a request for US $1300 which she would pay back as soon as she returned home.
I had my doubts. 
First of all if the hotel wasn’t allowing her to check out, and she needed help, then why didn’t she share through email the phone numbers of the hotel where she could be contacted. Second, of all the people why would Kishwar contact me for I have known her (standing right hand side in the picture) only recently when she was in Kolkata for a book launch  end of January 2010. When my office staff conveyed via mail that I wanted to talk to her there was a reply giving the number of the hotel manager. I made a call to the hotel and a person by the name of Michael Andrew picked up the phone and he said that there was no such name on the guest list.
I was thinking of calling Shabana Azmi, because Javed Akhtar knows Kishwar quite well, to check with her Pakistani permanent number. While I was embroiled in all this my friend Amajeet came and after hearing the matter laughed it off and told me that this was a very common fraud these days. This happens when someone hijacks your email account and sends out mails to all those who are on the user’s contact list.
He told me that the same thing had happened with his wife and also with columnist and TV anchor Mr Paranjoy Guha Thakurta. This was all news to me and I told Amajeet as to what if the mail was genuine and Kishwar really needed help. Amajeet just brushed it off and did not allow me to do anything further on the matter.
Meanwhile, Sukrita Pal Kumar with whom I had scheduled a meeting came and I told her the whole story. It was through Sukrita that I came to Kishwar Naheed. Sukrita warned me that this was a very common prank on the net and that I should not even bother replying because I ran the risk of having my mail hacked and similar requests would flood all those who are on my contact list. I took her advice and immediately instructed my office to change the password. By the way the mail from our end stating that her name did not feature on the hotel list got no response.
I thank Amajeet if this was a fraud. If not, I don’t know what to say. But one thing is sure that those who have not faced such a situation remain gullible to frauds but on the other hand it could also be a situation of `crying wolf’ wherein people really needing help may be denied simply because it would be passed off as a prank.
Well, this is some world we have to live in.
ess bee

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