Almost a year after former NDTV journalist Nidhi Razdan had revealed that she was scammed into believing that she has been offered a teacher job at the Harvard University, The New York Times published a report on the issue today. In the report titled ‘That Job at Harvard? It’s Not Real’, NYT tried to blame Hindu nationalists for the scam, and revealed that while several women in India were targeted in the elaborated scam, only Nidhi Razdan had fallen for it, who had resigned from NDTV to move to the USA, and had announced the same in public.
Although the article says that the identity of the scamsters is not known, it claims that they had expressed support online for the Hindu nationalist movement in India. It is not revealed where this support for Hindu nationalism was expressed by the people behind the scam. The article also repeatedly uses the term ‘Hindu nationalist’ while referring to the Modi government and BJP, making a clear insinuation on the political leaning of the unknown culprits.
Nidhi Razdan was not the only target
New York Times reveals that Nidhi Razdan was not the only target of the scam, and several other women were targeted before her. But, all of them had smelled that something was wrong, and had stopped communicating with the scamsters, avoiding the fate of Nidhi Razdan.
According to NYT, the first known target was The Wire journalist Rohini Singh, who was contacted by one Tauseef Ahmad claiming to be from Harvard University. Tauseef and another person named Alex Hirschman, both like fake identities, had invited her to participate in a high-powered media conference, with Harvard bearing all expenses. But as they were using Gmail email accounts and their phone numbers were not from USA, Rohini Singh grew suspicious, and after they asked for her passport details and some photographs, she stopped communicating with them.
The next target, according to NYT, was The Print Columnist Zainab Sikander, who also received similar offers from Tauseef and Alex. Sikander ignored the fact that they were using UAE numbers despite claiming to be from the Boston area, and says that the man sounded Pakistani. However, she also became suspicious after not receiving a formal invitation despite asking for the same, and terminated contact with the scamsters like Rohini Singh.
NYT report says that another female journalist working at a prominent Indian publication was targeted next, but the journalist refused to be identified. She also ended contacts after seeing the UAE phone numbers.
BJP spokesperson was target, had issued warning and wrote to Harvard about the scam
The most interesting victim of the scam was BJP spokesperson Nighat Abbass, because not only she is a politician from BJP, she had actually alerted Harvard about the scam. All other targets in the scam are journalists heavily critical of BJP and Modi govt, therefore Nighat Abbass stands out as the odd one.
According to the report, by the time Abbass was targeted, the scamsters had made improvements in their techniques. They had copied signatures from real Harvard employees, and obtained official letterhead from the university’s website. They were also now using Harvard.edu email addresses instead of Gmail.
But when they asked for passport details and other personal information of Abbaas, she decided to confirm from the university about the invitation she has received. But a Harvard official responded to her saying that the invitation sent to her from the Harvard.edu email address seems to be fake. When the official Bailey Payne asked for more details, Nighat Abbass sent everything, the phone number from the U.A.E., emails, screenshots of fake Harvard documents and hotel booking records.
However, NYT says that it is not known whether Harvard had taken any action on it, and the University declined to comment on what they did with the information provided by the BJP spokesperson.
Interestingly, Nighat Abbass had posted a video on Twitter on November 29, 2019, detailing about the scam being conducted by Tauseef Ahmad. She had said that Tauseef can be a scam-master or even maybe a terrorist, and it is a serious threat to people because he was trying to personal information of his targets.
So @tauseefahmad9 Cheating in the name of @Harvard @Kennedy_School
Potential Big Scam/Terrorist Threat
Kindly investigate @bostonpolice @FBIBoston @realDonaldTrump @foxnewsalert @NIA_India @DoughertyJC @ANI @KimberlyBookman @PTI_News @IndiaToday @TimesNow @usnews @AFP @HMOIndia pic.twitter.com/9Beu703xE9
— Nighat Abbass 🇮🇳 (@abbas_nighat)
She said that he used fake documents, fake IDs, fake numbers, and he could be some kind of terrorist. She had requested the US govt to trace him down using his US phone number and email IDs.
Despite this warning by Abbass, Nidhi Razdan proceeded to be the only known victim of the scam to provide her personal details. She had received the email just two weeks before the video posted by Abbass, and subsequently she was contacted by the same Tauseef that Abbass had warned people about, calling him a terrorist.
According to the NYT report, the scamsters had bought a website called HarvardCareer.com, and used it to set up an email server, so that emails sent by them carries the Harvard stamp. Reportedly, they copied documents from Harvard website and sent official-looking emails and letters to Nidhi Razdan, confirming her the job at the university.
Nidhi Razdan failed to cross-check the exciting offer like other targets of the scam had done, and announced on Twitter in June 2020 that she is leaving NDTV to join Harvard University as an Associate Professor teaching journalism.
Some personal and professional news: after 21 years at NDTV, I am changing direction and moving on. Later this year, I start as an Associate Professor teaching journalism as part of Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences 1/n
— Nidhi Razdan (@Nidhi)
The NYT article mentions more details that present Nidhi Razdan as much more careless, as she continued to ignore clear signs of a scam. Even when she was said that there was never a video call scheduled with a dean at Harvard that she was invited to, and her calls were getting cancelled, she thought these were bureaucratic snags and results of the pandemic.
Finally, Harvard wrote to her confirming that she was never offered any job at the university, after which she made the ordeal public.
Rohini Singh, the first known target, believes that Indian government was behind the scam. But that does not explain why the BJP govt will target a BJP spokesperson.
Forensic analysis reveals Pakistan link, NYT blames Hindu Nationalists
However, a security expert Jiten Jain, who did a forensic analysis of the laptop and devices of Nidhi Razdan, said that a suspicious file he uncovered on Ms. Razdan’s computer contained an IP address that had once been linked to a hacking group believed to be associated with Pakistani intelligence. It is notable that the scamsters had made Nidhi Razdan install Team Viewer on her computer, which allows remote controlling of a computer, enabling others to access files and install malware in the target computer.
Jain also discovered fake job websites from Ivy league universities operated from China, and suggests that it appears to be a group of sophisticated actors running a targeted surveillance campaign.
Despite this, New York Times theorises that the Hindu Nationalists could be behind the scam. They claim, “Perhaps the women were targeted by an individual, someone ideologically aligned with the Hindu nationalist ruling party in India and willing to go to great lengths to humiliate critics of the government’s intervention in Kashmir and those who spoke out against the divide between Hindus and Muslims”.
NYT also claims that one of the Twitter accounts used by the scamsters with the name Seema Singh frequently posted about these issues, and therefore Hindu Nationalists could be behind the scam.
Despite the fact that a BJP spokesperson was among the targeted women, despite the discovery of IP address linked to Pakistan and other details revealed by Jiten Jain’s analysis, and despite the use of a UAE number, New York Times choses to ignore all that blames Hindu Nationalists for the scam.