Time and again the US space agency has stepped in to refute fake claims and hoaxes that surface in its name in India.
New Delhi: A father-son duo was recently arrested in Delhi for allegedly duping people of crores of rupees by making them invest into what they called a ‘rice puller’ project for American space agency NASA.
The police also seized fake anti-radiation suits from the accused.
However, this isn’t the first time that NASA’s name has been used to con people. ThePrint lists some instances wherein crooks employed innovative ways to con unsuspecting commoners:
The rice-pulling fraud
A rice-puller is supposed to be a device, made of copper and iridium, possessing astounding capabilities of pulling grains of rice towards it. However, it does not exist, except for tricksters to make gullible businessmen invest in this ‘device’. They claim the rice puller is used by the NASA for various purposes.
Before the father-son duo, another Delhi man claiming to be the representative of a French company, along with a graphic designer, used a similar ‘rice-puller’ concept to dupe an ex-army personnel of Rs 70 lakh.
In 2009, three people were arrested in two separate incidents of ‘rice-pulling’ scam by the police as well.
The job that NASA never offered
In 2014, 27-year-old Arun P. Vijayakumar from Manimala, Kerala, made headlines in national dailies for being selected by NASA to join the space agency. He told the media that the NASA was willing to relax the citizenship condition although the space agency does not offer jobs to non-US citizens.
Vijayakumar also claimed to have met Prime Minister Narendra Modi who apparently took interest in his achievement.
However, the whole story turned out to be a big hoax and was revealed only when a Facebook group called “Netizen Police” investigated Vijayakumar’s social media accounts to discover the fraud.
In 2016, 18-year-old Sataparna Mukherjee from West Bengal was in the spotlight after news of her securing an internship with the prestigious Goddard Institute of Space, NASA, went viral on social media. Later, NASA itself clarified that there were no records of any student called ‘Sataparna Mukherjee’ in the programme and that they had not relaxed the citizenship policy that requires them to grant the internship to US citizens living within 50 miles of Goddard institute.
In April 2012, Atul Sharma, a 41-year-old, self-proclaimed NASA scientist duped as many as 10 men by offering them jobs at the space agency and making business deals with them. He also lied to these people saying he had ‘worked’ in the special forces, involving research on artificial intelligence and space robotics during the tenures of US Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama.
He also duped a 40-year-old divorcee of Rs 25 Lakh by promising to marry her. Finally, the Mumbai police busted all his fake deals and booked him under IPC sections 406 for criminal breach of trust, 419 for cheating by personation, and 420 for cheating.
In May last year, NASA officials exposed a hoax when the Indian media reported that Jaipur-based Monark Sharma had bagged a job with the US army, after working with NASA as a junior scientist. He was also quoted by one newspaper as saying that NASA offered him a job and a green card.
However, US citizenship is always a pre-requisite for any job at NASA. When HuffPost India reached out to NASA officials regarding the claim, they were quoted as saying, “We do not offer green cards or in any way work around US immigration laws and policies. We are not aware that any of the NASA-related claims are accurate.”
Every Diwali, an over-exposed satellite imagery of India from space, appears in WhatsApp forwards. However, fed up by these doctored pictures and fake claims, NASA itself released a statement, along with the real imagery of India during Diwali in 2012 to refute the hoax.
“An image that claims to show the region lit for Diwali has been circulating on social media websites and the internet in recent years. In fact, it does not show what it claims,” it said.
“That image, based on data from the Operational Linescan System flown on US Defence Meteorological Satellite Programme (DMSP) satellites, is a colour-composite created in 2003 by NOAA scientist Chris Elvidge to highlight population growth over time.”
In March this year, a fake message about an impeding earthquake in Delhi was doing the rounds on social media and WhatsApp: “According to NASA, the biggest earthquake will hit Delhi soon. The Rector’s [sic] Scale is 9.1 or may be 9.2.”
Although the message had glaring spelling and grammatical errors, many netizens were unable to look through the inaccuracy of the message, ending up in a panic. Many TV channels and news portals also released reports debunking the hoax. Finally, calm was restored because the earthquake never occurred.
The topper of NASA exam that it doesn’t conduct
In 2005, 17-year-old Saurabh Singh became the centre of a raging controversy when he claimed to have gained recognition for topping the ‘International Discovery Exam’ conducted by NASA in London, at the Oxford University. The story of Singh who hailed from Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh was picked up by a local newspaper, and then by some national dailies. It inspired so many, that even members of the UP legislative council passed a unanimous resolution to donate their one month’s basic salary towards a fund created for Singh.
However, NASA officials denied the existence of such an exam at all. It was then that the hoax was exposed and Saurabh Singh disappeared from the headlines.