Technology can help prevent scams of the sort perpetrated by the likes of Abdul Telgi and Harshad Mehta
Abdul Kareem Telgi, the kingpin of the stamp paper scam who died in prison on Thursday, would rank alongside the likes of Harshad Mehta and Satyam’s Ramalinga Raju as master scamsters in the annals of Indian history. Printing and selling fake stamp papers, in collusion with high-ranking government officials, including top police officers, Telgi cost the country thousands of crores of rupees. Harshad Shantilal Mehta, similarly, used bank securities to buy stocks and, once the trades were over, would return them, leaving no one the wiser about the fraud. But what if there were no stamp paper? Go online, make a payment to the government registry, get a number for your transaction and type this out on the agreement you are signing on an A4 sheet of paper—no stamp paper, no fraud, no Telgi! Similarly, if the bank security records were maintained online, how could a Harshad ever “borrow” them in collusion with a few bank officials?
People worry about online bank fraud, but if a forged cheque was used to withdraw money from your account in the past, you wouldn’t get to know until you went to get your passbook updated. Today, with SMSs for every transaction, frauds can be detected that much faster and, with limits on how much cash can be withdrawn, the trail is easier to follow across banks. A largely offline ration shop system was quite vulnerable to theft, but with Aadhaar-linked validation—even direct transfers to bank accounts at some point in time—the system is a lot more immunised against theft. Certainly, bright thieves will come up with a solution over time, as they do in each case, but if those manning the system are smart and come up with technology fixes fast enough, it may be a long time before you see the likes of a Telgi or a Mehta.