As India hits a daily record of 412,262 COVID cases and 3,980 deaths, scammers are coming up with new and elaborate ways to exploit desperate families trying to save loved ones.
The latest pandemic scheme? Passing fire extinguishers off as oxygen cylinders for patients in dire condition.
On Thursday, local media outlets reported that Delhi police arrested three people for painting fire extinguishers and selling them as oxygen cylinders to family members of infected citizens. Police reportedly seized more than 530 extinguishers that had been dismantled, spray-painted, and sold as gas cylinders.
Police uncovered the plot after the head of an Indian NGO, Radha Vallabh Sewa Sangh—who had fallen victim to the scheme himself—reported the fraudsters to local authorities. The accused were identified as 40-year-old Ravi Sharma, 38-year-old Mohammad Abdil, and 30-year old Shambhu Shah from Alipur, Delhi.
“During enquiry, it was found that distributor Ravi Sharma was removing red paint [from] fire cylinders which were used for filling of CO2 and was converting them into oxygen cylinders by painting them black with the help of Abdil and Shah,” a police deputy commissioner told The India Times.
When questioned by the police, the suspects reportedly copped to obtaining expired and empty fire extinguishers, recasting them, and selling them for about $180 each. The men admitted to having already sold “many” cylinders, police said.
In addition to the cylinders, police seized grinders apparently used to chip off the original paint on the fire extinguishers, empty spray can bottles, paint boxes and brushes, about two dozen oxygen cylinders nozzles, a pipe wrench, and roughly $800 in cash.
As India faces a devastating virus wave, a highly infectious virus variant, and crippling oxygen shortages—the fire extinguisher scheme is just one of many COVID-related scams sweeping the country.
Government officials in India’s southern Karnataka state have been accused of selling hospital beds on the black market, social media fraudsters have been delivering counterfeit medicines to Indians scavenging for supplies on Twitter, and WhatsApp users have posed as doctors promising to deliver humidifiers and oxygen cylinders, only to block their victims after receiving cash app payments.
Though India is known as the “world’s pharmacy,” the overwhelming COVID infection rate gripping the country has led to a severe shortage in oxygen, medical supplies and hospital beds. The circumstances have fueled the ambitions of fraudsters looking to capitalize on desperate families.
Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi has been blasted for failing to appropriately handle the crisis, instead focusing on campaigning and falsely assuring the public that the situation is “under control.”