Not long after he subscribed to a weekly paper that assembles job advertisements, Didarul Alam, desperate for a job, noticed a lucrative ad—from “Village Save The Children”. The name of the organisation sounded familiar to the 21-year-old who had completed his HSC exams from a rural area in Khagrachari. The ad sought candidates for a few hundred posts of health care workers and office staff, with no prior experience required. Selected candidates were to be stationed in hospitals or clinics in their own locality and promised a monthly salary of Tk. 15,000.
Didarul was reluctant, but his parents insisted that he should give it a try. “What's so wrong with trying?” asked his father, who was about to retire from his government job and worried that his son would not be able to compete in the cutthroat job market.
Didarul sent his CV, and the next day, he was contacted by a woman. “You have been selected for the interview,” she said. There was only one problem though: she also said that he would have to pay Tk. 2950 as “registration fee” if he's selected. Didarul, not knowing any better, agreed to the term, and came to Dhaka to face the “interview”.
He went to the address provided in the advertisement, and saw other candidates waiting for the interview. Among them was a friend he knew from his school days. A few minutes later, he was called in. The interviewer asked him to answer a set of questions and write a paragraph. After he finished, the interviewer told him that he had been selected.
Then, he was asked to pay the “fee”. He did. He was instructed to go back home and assured that he would be contacted soon. Didarul never got the call. His friend, who had also been selected, was also never contacted.
It is unclear how many job seekers become victims of such fraud every year. A content analysis of ten recent issues of four weeklies – chosen randomly – that solely publish recruitment advertisements reveals that 15 percent of the ads were of dubious, apparently fake organisations. For example, one ad in Chakrir Khobor seeks candidates for Project Director of “UNDP”, which stands for “Union National Development Project” instead of United Nations Development Programme, using the original UNDP logo. Another ad seeks applicants for “Grameen Save The Children”, apparently referring to microfinance organisation Grameen Bank and internationally reputed NGO Save The Children Fund.
We sent CVs to 10 of these random ads, and received replies within hours. Half of them asked for a registration fee. “Grameen Save The Children” demanded Tk. 2,600. Another one, namely Trust Company, apparently intended to confuse job seekers with the Army-run Trust institutions, sought Tk. 520.
Dejan Drobnjak, Communications Management Officer at the UNDP, confirms that his organisation is aware of the fraud. “We noticed some fraud advertisements using UNDP acronym and a logo that looks similar to our logo a few weeks ago, but the full name is different from ours,” he says. Terming it as a “carefully thought scam”, Drobnjak, argues that none of his colleagues could recall similar incidents in the past.
UNDP, on Tuesday, published a warning on its official Facebook page, stating that UNDP does not charge a fee at any state of its recruitment process.
Currently, the security department of UNDP is dealing with the case, and may soon turn this officially to law enforcement agencies. There's an ongoing internal investigation, following which the agency is expected to come up with an official statement for the media.
Job fraudulence through newspaper ads has been rife in the capital in recent years, claims Barrister Jyotimoy Barua, a lawyer at the Supreme Court. “If a company seeks candidates for a few hundred posts, at least 5000 job-seekers try it. If each of them is asked to pay, say, Tk. 300 as registration fee, where does the total figure stand?”
Do newspapers have a responsibility?
People behind these weeklies tried to distance themselves from the ads they publish. “We don't publish ads by ourselves. We republish ads that had already been published throughout the week by national newspapers,” Mohammad Babul of Chakrir Khobor says in defense. When asked about job fraud allegations, he argues, “We publish a disclaimer that all the ads are collected from national dailies. We also caution readers not to exchange money under any circumstances. So if anyone gets swindled, we are not responsible.”
A quick search on Google reveals that the advertisement Didarul followed had also been published in at least two national dailies, and that the same address was later used by at least two more organisations. They, too, sought candidates for job vacancies via different ads.
Professor of Journalism, Dhaka University, and the Chief Information Commissioner, Dr Golam Rahman believes that advertisements “are not beyond the responsibility” of the press.
“There should be a policy on advertisement, particularly when it comes to ethical issues. It's the responsibility of the press, too,” he adds.
Ashish Saikat, the managing editor of The Daily Ittefaq, claims his paper maintains an advertisement acceptability policy, and that advertisements are vetted before publication. He, however, is unwilling to share details as to how they scrutinise ads or what is their ad rejection rate, because, he says, it is an “in-house policy”.
Anis Alamgir, the editor of Daily Manab Kantha, asserts, “There is no specific policy from the government relating to fraudulent ads or how ads should be, but newspapers maintain their own policy. They adhere to a customary practice.” He also indicateds that fake recruitment ads are, at times, carried out right under the ad section's nose in several newspapers. “Any conscious reader can determine it, if he carefully examines the paper.”
Some online job portals assure their users about authenticity of the listed job provider companies. Fahim Mashroor, CEO of bdjobs.com, boasts of “hundred percent” authenticity. When asked how his team examines companies registered in the website, he says, “When a company submits for registration with us, we send a team to physically audit its office. After examining several factors such as office size, employees, and other things, we determine its authenticity.”
Internationally renowned newspapers such as The New York Times maintain an Advertising Acceptability Department to determine if ads “meet the standard of acceptability”. But none of the above examples sounds like a realistic or financially viable option for Bangladeshi newspapers.
Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua has a suggestion to offer in this regard. “As for companies, newspapers can check for their validity in the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms (ROC),” he says. “You can ask them to create an online database so that you can check the authenticity of any company within minutes.” In fact, the ROC website offers an online database of registered entities. the NGO Affairs Bureau of the Prime Minister's Office does not provide a database, but maintains a list of both approved and cancelled NGOs in its website.
Professor Golam Rahman suggests blacklisting companies for newspapers' convenience. “When the press understands a fraudulent activity is there behind the advertisement, it should not allow those [companies in future].”
With these companies operating boldly in public, the question arises what the authorities are doing to counter them. RAB-4 Team led by Maj Md. Abu Sayeed Khan busted a network of fraudsters in June last year. RAB claimed that the network had swindled thousands of desperate job seekers out of 200 crore Taka.
AASP Sajedul Islam Sajal, who was involved in the operation, says, “We acted on complaints. I also recall another incident when we caught a network of 7-8 persons who took away almost Tk. 60-70 lakh from job-seekers.”
In general, he claims, law enforcement agencies operate against these networks based on their jurisdictions.
RAB spokesperson Mufti Mahmud Khan asserts that such fraudulence has been curbed due to his force's efforts. When asked about the continuing prevalence of the problem, he says, “We in general, act on tip-off or complaints. We spontaneously act only when we deem that too many people are becoming victims.” He also emphasised on public awareness given the limited resource of his overstretched force. “You must not give money at any stage of the recruitment,” he advises. “Proceed only after you are sure of the authenticity of the company.”
There have been reports about fraudulent recruiters who lure labours abroad. Compared to that, this fraudulence may seem insignificant. However, as Jyotirmoy Barua puts it, the number of victims of such fraud is huge, so is their collective loss. Unlike the fraudulent labour recruitments, this job fraud continues in open daylight through published ads. Hence, perpetrators behind such fraud should be detected and caught easily. One wonders what stops law enforcers from preventing this fraud once and for all.
Nazmul Ahasan is a freelance journalist.