Police are waiting for more victims to file complaints against a 26-year-old man from Trashiyangtse who is currently detained for larceny by deception after he allegedly promised US working visas to five people.
Initially, police received information from a woman, a resident in Dechencholing, Thimphu about the man demanding Nu 150,000 from the woman to process a working visa to the USA.
According to the woman’s statement to police, she met the man on social media app WeChat and proceeded to converse. The suspect insisted the woman deposit the money before he gives the visa to somebody else. However, she did not give any money to the suspect.
Later, police found that the man had conned four more people, claiming to be an ex-drangpon of the Supreme Court, currently working as a private lawyer and also running a consultancy firm.
Police arrested the suspect from a hotel in Olakha, Thimphu on March 20. Later, Thimphu police learned that he is also wanted by Trashiyangtse police for larceny.
A police official said that the suspect communicated with the victims mostly through text and voice messages on WeChat. The suspect then asked the victims to add as a friend a woman named Pema Zangmo on Facebook, who he claimed was working in the USA.
The suspect convinced the victims that Pema Zangmo’s husband working in an embassy in New Delhi will help them in processing their working visas while Pema Zangmo would arrange for their jobs, lodging and all necessary arrangements in the USA.
Police later found that the suspect has been communicating with the victims as Pema Zangmo through text messages.
According to the police, the suspect admitted that Pema Zangmo, who he claimed to be his business partner in the USA, is fictitious.
The official said that Pema Zangmo’s Facebook account has been inactive after the suspect was arrested.
A 31-year-old woman from Trashigang met with the suspect through a “group chat” on WeChat where he told her that he processes working visas for the USA and if she or anyone else was interested.
Two other victims learned about the suspect from the 31-year-old woman.
On further investigation, police found that the suspect conned another man of Nu 750,000 in Thimphu. The man deposited the amount in a bank account of a hotel manager in Thimphu in nine transactions.
The man said that he met the suspect on Facebook and they never met in person.
“He was so convincing that there was no room to doubt him,” the man said. “We were supposed to leave for the USA on February 25 but couldn’t after he said that he is not well.”
The man said that the suspect did not reveal to him the total amount needed to process the visa when he asked. “He said I have to deposit Nu 50,000 as a registration fee and then he will let me know how much I have to deposit later.”
He added: “I borrowed the money from others and now I am doomed … I don’t have anything against him as long as I get my money back.”
The victims deposited a total of Nu 10.34 million in four bank accounts in the name of four different account holders in Phuentsholing, Bumthang and Thimphu.
The official said that initially it was suspected that the account holder may also be associated with the suspect.
However, according to the police, the suspect confessed that the account holders are not involved in the scam. He requested their bank account numbers to get his money transferred saying he doesn’t have one, which the police verified later.
Police also learned that the suspect gave the account number of the manager of a hotel in Thimphu that he had been staying in, to all the victims for transactions of additional money.
According to the hotel manager’s statement to police, the suspect stayed in the hotel for 16 days. He had also checked in saying that he had flown in from the USA.
A police official said that the suspect ran out of money to clear the hotel bills and that was when he asked for the manager’s bank account number claiming that his relatives in the USA will deposit a sum of Nu 583,000.
The official said that the first few transactions to the bank accounts were small amounts.
All the victims met the suspect on social media sites, WeChat and Facebook.
A 30-year-old victim said that it has been about three months that she had known the suspect through a relative.
She said that the suspect convinced her to deposit Nu 40,000 as a registration fee saying that he helped people from humble backgrounds to process working visa for USA.
Her sister arranged for the money and deposited it into the bank account that he had provided after which she met him at the Clock Tower Square in Thimphu.
She deposited Nu 20,000 in a second transaction.
“He said that Pema Zangmo and her husband will be in Bhutan and they will be meeting with us, the second batch to go to the USA,” she said. “On the day, he said he is in India and there won’t be any meetings.”
The suspect told her that the visa is ready and asked her to deposit another Nu 50,000.
“I started doubting him so I did not deposit the money,” she said. “He said that he will sell my visa to somebody else for Nu 1.5M.”
She asked Pema Zangmo and the suspect to give back her money otherwise she will report the case to the police. “They said I can report anywhere but I won’t be able to do anything.”
The suspect lives with his parents in Trashiyangtse helping his father after he completed class X in 2010.
The police official said that despite many similar cases being reported to the police, people are falling victims to such scams. Police are cautioning people to be careful and verify with the police and authorities concerned before trusting people promising jobs or visas overseas.