Indian government alert on scams involving products making false claims of radioactive properties

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The Indian government has been periodically cautioning against scamsters in the country selling fake equipment that they claim contains radioactive material with the aim of cheating gullible people out of large sums of money, the Minister for Atomic Energy Jitendra Singh said earlier this month.

In response to a question raised by a member of the Lower House of Parliament, the Minister said in a written reply that the government was aware that its Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) receives frequent alerts about fraudsters selling such fake material, which, in cases where they have been seized, have been found to be totally “devoid of radioactivity.”

“The government is aware that certain fraudsters are selling material with dubious names like ‘anti-radiation pack’ and ‘Rice-puller’, etc. having radioactivity and certified by BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre)/DAE. Crisis Management Group DAE, and BARC keep getting alerts/intimation very frequently regarding fraudulent transactions involving certain material labelled as ‘Rice-puller’, ‘Anti-radiation pack’, etc.”, Singh said.

“The information about fraudsters selling such material with dubious names of ‘Anti-radiation pack’, and ‘Rice-puller’, etc., claiming to be certified by BARC/DAE is addressed in all the public awareness programmes conducted by DAE, and participants are requested to bring to the notice of law enforcement agencies of such incidences. This information is also provided to the participants of the various training programmes conducted for security and response agencies on ‘response to radiation emergencies'”, he said.

According to the Minister, fraudsters trap innocent businessmen and others and convince them that the material they are selling is radioactive and has magical powers to increase profits greatly. “The fraudsters show manipulated documents purported to be from BARC/DAE etc. to convince clients about the authenticity of the material and cheat innocent people. Many a time, the victims approach the local police who send the material to BARC to check for radioactivity, and in all cases the material has been found to be devoid of radioactivity”, Singh added.

Rice pullers can be described as any antique metal object such as coins, vessels, tumblers, or jewellery with a magical potential of pulling rice grains. Rice pullers are made of copper alloys or the element iridium. These type of metals have a natural electric or magnetic properties which make them highly valuable. Properties of rice pulling are commonly found in objects made of copper and iridium. These metals are very rarely found, thus, making them greatly sought after. Rice pullers have been mostly found in rural and remote areas, and generally buried under the earth.

Owing to their natural electric or magnetic power, rice pullers are used in satellites, rockets, as well as for research purposes by military organisations. Their exceptional properties have, however, also provoked keen interest among scammers in the Indian subcontinent. As numerous instances testify, rice pullers have been used to perpetrate frauds by making use of some illusionist tricks. A common modus operandi employed by fraudsters involves selling rice pulling metals by tempting the potential buyer with the prospect of a lucrative market for this so called “magical” item, designed to sell it off at a price much higher than its original cost.

In recent years, numerous instances of what is popularly known as the “rice pulling scam” have come to light, particularly in the south Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana and Tamil Nadu. The police have arrested a number of people in this connection, and have also unearthed fake websites used to lure gullible people.

According to law enforcement officials in Tamil Nadu, a particular fake website contained technical details on the material’s applications, including the use of names like radium, thorium, and iridium, among others, to fool prospective buyers about the nonexistent radioactive property. This “rice pulling” material was projected as worth millions of rupees in the global market in order to sell it for a few hundred thousand rupees. Designed to make a convincing sales pitch, some such sites showed people wearing radiation protective clothing while handling the so called radioactive material.

In a case that came to light in the IT hub Bengaluru a couple of years back, the fraudsters said the equipment could be sold to the US space agency NASA and other organisations for a higher profit, but that they required to rent suits and other tools from defence research and development organisations to test the equipment, and solicited money from prospective buyers for this purpose.

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