In February 2021, OpIndia reported an alleged iPhone scam in which a person identified as Neel Patel, alias Hitesh Patel was involved. It was reported that Patel had created an influential status on social media platforms and formed connections with some high profile and influential people. He allegedly used the influence to dupe hundreds of people who bought both iPhones and Android phones, hoping they will get the device at cheaper rates.
At that time, there was little information available about his other ventures like Squeakcoins and eGyaan that was added in the report. Recently, OpIndia was approached by some of the victims of various alleged scams ran by Patel. These victims not only shared their stories and explained how Patel operated for months conning several hundred people but also shared several documents including FIRs, recordings and chat screenshots as proof of their side of the story.
How Hitesh Patel created a positive image on social media?
Patel started actively posting on Twitter around the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. As he had a verified Twitter account that was later found to be allegedly bought from a hacker, people thought of him as a genuine person. He actively provided support to NGOs and individuals who were in need of funds during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the meantime, he also showcased his lavish lifestyle in the United States and claimed that he was a well-established investor and trader.
The beginning of the scams
He kept building a positive image on Twitter till October 2020, when he first announced the iPhone scheme around Diwali. As he already had established himself as a trustworthy person and was in contact with several social media celebrities, people trusted him and ordered “cheap” iPhones, Android smartphones, laptops and tablets from him. In the meantime, he also offered coupons to some celebrities and those who were selflessly helping people during the Covid-19 period.
OpIndia had reported in February that several buyers did not get their smartphones and other devices despite waiting for months. Though Patel claimed the devices were only delayed, and there was no scam, in reality, several people who had invested their money in the scheme are still waiting for either device or refund.
The online trading course
In November 2020, Patel announced a trading course by the name “eGyaan Market Makers Course – With Job”. It was supposed to be a course on financial independence and stock market investment. Patel offered two options for the potential students. The first option was to just learn the course for Rs.499, and the second was for Rs.44,999, in which he would not only teach but also offer a job after completion of the course.
Devendra Sorout, one of the victims of the alleged scams, also joined the course by paying Rs.45,000 and thought he would get a job at the end of the course. He said, “Neel promised us that once we complete the course, we will be well versed in trading. He also promised to give us a license which was required in case we want to manage someone else’s trading account. We trusted him.”
Another victim Srikant Kaushik said, “I took the Rs. 44,999 course which had forex/stock training for three months, $1000 credit for trading and a free tablet and job guarantee for two years with a salary between 50k and 1 lac.”
Patel had promised that he would pay Rs.50,000 for the first three months and Rs.1 lakh for the next 21 months. He also promised to provide a Tablet from Samsung or another similar company that would be worth Rs.25,000 to Rs.30,000. Apart from these, he also offered free recharge on one sim card for five years and a license from the third party that would make his students certified traders so that they can manage clients’ trading accounts in future.
Reportedly, around 230 people opted for Rs.45,000 course, and another 200+ opted for just learning sessions without the job guarantee. The course was started on December 26, 2020.
Srikant said that the course continued for three months, and Neel taught his students the basics of trading three days a week in one-hour per day classes. However, he never fulfilled his promise to provide a tablet.
The victims have alleged that the promised jobs were not provided by Hitesh on the pretext that the clients were not paying.
Hitesh Patel denied these allegations and blamed the students for missing deadlines. He also said that he wants ‘time’ to provide refunds.
The Ethereum scam
After three days of starting the classes, Neel came up with an opportunity for the students during the Webex meeting. He claimed that it was the right time to buy a crypto-currency ETHEREUM (ETH) that, according to him, had the potential to grow multi-fold in the coming months. He urged the students to invest in ETH through his Squeaks website, where he allegedly sold ETH coins that no other site was authorized to do.
At that time, 1 ETH was sold between the price range of Rs.46,000 to Rs.80,000 depending on when people invested in the scheme that ran from December 28, 2020, to January 7, 2021. Reportedly, over 200 ETH coins were bought during that period. Patel allegedly promised the students that whoever invests in ETH via his platform would get returns up to three times under his auto trading platform “Coingenius”.
While Sorout had invested around Rs.2.2 lakh, Kaushik invested around Rs.18,000 in ETH. He also urged everyone to encourage their relatives to invest in ETH. When someone questioned if they had to sell ETH, he said, “You do not have to sell but only tell others what would they get by keeping Rs.1 lakh in the bank.”
To lure more investors, he reportedly claimed that whoever would invest in his Coingenius platform would add 25% from his pocket. The investors were told that there was a locking period of three months, and they would not be able to withdraw any funds from ETH investment during that time. Later in March, when ETH rose to Rs.1,55,000 in the market, people started to ask Patel to provide 3-times with the investment. Patel then claimed that he was only using the platform to lure more customers, and it was a fake. The victims claimed that he also denied the additional 25% that he promised on investing in his platform.
When investors asked him for the ETH without the profits he promised, he said they could withdraw it in April 2021. During that period, the iPhone scam came to light. To make sure his investors believe him, he did clear payments of some small investors but did not clear the pending withdrawals of large investors and the majority of the investors are still waiting for their money.
The Bullrun scam
The last scam that he allegedly played on the eGyaan students was Bullrun which turned out to be a dummy forex trading platform. He claimed that if someone invests $100 on the platform, the company will give that person $1000 for trading. Devendra said, “Patel was expecting everyone to lose money on the trading platform. However, on the contrary, people made profits. When they finally started withdrawing the money, Patel took back the credit for many students.” He also deducted money from other investments for those who lost money in forex trading on a dummy platform.
One of the victims approached a forex trading expert and a trader to know if Bullrun was a genuine platform. At first glance, the expert claimed that it was not a genuine platform as it did not contain the information that every trading platform is legally bound to show on its homepage.
The Bitcoin plan
After getting investors for ETH, he also urged his students to invest in BTC (Bitcoin) BLOCK trading scheme. He alleged that if someone invested a minimum of Rs.10 lakh in BTC via him, the investor would make crores in Bitcoins within a few months as “block trading is done on a bigger scale”. He further alleged that it was an easy way to multiply money and claimed to have invested a large amount himself in the scheme.
The victims claimed that he took around Rs.2 crore under the said scheme from them. The eGyaan members who later became the investors and turned into a victim of his allegedly well-spun con are still waiting for any amount from the scheme. They are not bothered about the profits and want only the principal amount back that they had invested.
Denying these allegations, Neel Patel has cried vendetta and said that some people are claiming such things because they have ‘vested interests’ against him.
Neel used the investors as a troll army
The victims we talked to claimed that Neel Patel had used his students who had invested large amounts in his schemes were used as a troll army on social media platforms. He would ask his students to counter each and everyone who raises questions over any of the schemes introduced by Neel, including those who bought phones at a lower price from him and were waiting for the devices. As a result, anyone who wanted to call Patel out on social media was bombarded with hate messages.
They further claimed that one of the admins in the eGyaan group (Alkesh) to run Patel’s propaganda not to allow anyone to question him on social media or in eGyaan groups. “If dared to question him in the group, the person would be called a traitor and thrown out with their payments or with the basic amount,” said the victim.
The story of Squeakscoin
In January, Patel informed the students that he was launching his own crypto-currency and named it Squeaks Coin (SQU). He claimed that the coin was ready to be launched, and he would give SQU worth 5 lakh to every eGyaan member for free. It was claimed that there would be two formats of the coin.
One would derive its value from the market, and another would be gold-backed. He set the price of the coin at Rs.1,32,775. He promised to give one coin for free to anyone who buys a coin. Patel claimed the withdrawals of the amount against coins could be done after two months for the first and six months for the second coin. Reportedly, no one was paid after six months against the coins.
Another alleged scam called Naaradpay
In February 2020, he came up with another scheme by the name Naaradpay which was an e-Wallet like PayTm. He offered two schemes to the eGyaan students. Under the first scheme, one would invest Rs.9,999 and get Rs.1,000 for recharges for three years. The second scheme was for Rs.29,999, under which the investor would get Rs.5,000 in their NaaradPay account for three years.
In case someone sells the plan to family or friends, they would get SQU coins worth the amount of the plan(s) they sold. One of the victims, Brij Kaushik, who talked to OpIndia and told his ordeal, said that he had invested Rs.1,00,000 in the Naarad Pay scheme. Sorout had invested Rs.40,000 and on his recommendation, his three friends also invested. Patel paid everyone for two months, but in April 2021, he discontinued the service claiming his staff was not available due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Srikant said, “Notably, he had sold a maximum of his schemes during the pandemic period, but when the time came to pay back the investors, he made an excuse of Covid. Such irony…” Sorout echoed Srikant and said, “I had invested a lot of money in his schemes and urged my friends and family to invest as well. Everyone got scammed in the hands of a conman.”
To these allegations, Patel has again claimed that he will return the money but needs ‘time’.
The FDC scam
Even though people were getting scammed multiple times and questions were being raised against him, Patel managed to keep the majority of the investors, aka eGyaan students, with him. In March 2021, he told everyone about a new scheme in which he urged everyone to invest in a US company named FDC Tech INC. He claimed that he would get shares of the company at 30 cents against the actual price of 60 cents as he was buying shares worth Rs.2 crore directly from the CEO. He told anyone can join him by investing as low as Rs.25,000 and promised he would pay 14% dividends every month for six months.
The catch was that the investment would stay locked for six months. Several people invested, but no one got stocks or dividends as promised by him. Srikant said, “Notably, in the contract, he sold US company’s stock from his Indian company named SQUEAKS TECHNOLOGY (OPC) Pvt Ltd.” He allegedly collected Rs.50 lakh under the scheme and never paid anyone back.
How is Patel avoiding withdrawals?
During January and March, Neel informed the investors that ETH is blocked for three months. Some of the investors asked him for withdrawals during the lock period due to family emergencies and due to doubts raised against him. He did pay some of them but deducted 42% of the investment as charges for early withdrawal.
When people started withdrawing their investments after the three-month lock period, he said the withdrawal process would start on April 1, and the money would get transferred in the accounts within 7-8 days. On April 1, he made some excuse and asked everyone to initiate withdrawals on April 19. When the date came, he alleged that he would be sending money to India and payments will be made from his Indian account.
Then came the shocker. He said those who had lost money in Bullrun have to get the losses deducted from ETH withdrawals. Such condition was never mentioned in front of the investors before. The victims alleged that Patel gave wrong advice to the investors, due to which some of the people incurred heavy losses. Patel also blamed RBI for not releasing around $5,00,000 that he had transferred to India. He continued to stick on his claim until June end.
In May 2021, he came up with another option for withdrawals and asked the investors to create an account on Veem. In the days ahead, he only paid around $2000-$3000 to the small investors. After that, once people started to believe him against, he allegedly issued fake receipts and claimed he had processed the payments and it would take 3-4 days for the amount to show in their accounts.
In June 2021, he claimed that he has opened a new business account in the US and would do batch wire transfers. He alleged everyone would get money by June 21 2021. However, nothing happened as such. He claimed to have sent money to four people during that period. Two of the payments were put on hold, and one was reversed as he had charged back on the payment. Only one payment got through.
Complaints against Neel Patel
Neel Patel, alias Hitesh Patel is now facing multiple complaints filed against him across the country. OpIndia accessed a few FIRs registered against Patel. In one of the FIRs, the complainant listed several investment schemes he had invested in. One of the victims had invested close to Rs.5,00,000 in different schemes at the behest of Patel, and now he is running from corner to corner to get his money back.
Another FIR mentioned victim’s name as Suresh Kumar Soni, who had invested Rs.2,34,874 in different schemes, and his friend(s) had invested Rs.1,89,875 on his recommendation making it a total of Rs.4,24,748.
There are several other complaints filed against Neel. These complaints have been registered under different sections, including Section 420, 467, 468, 471, 406 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 66D of the IT Act.
Allegations of money laundering
There are allegations of money laundering against Neel Patel. One of the victims alleged that he had transferred Rs.90 lakh that he had collected from the investors in his Indian company’s account to one Nobat Singh’s account, and they got it transferred to the United States. Though they had provided a screenshot of the statement of fund transfers that took place in December and January, OpIndia could not independently verify the claims.
Neel Patel claimed, “I am telling you again, they paid me to buy Ethereum for them. How can I invest the money if I don’t get it in my account? Hence the transfers. There is no case of money laundering. If ED or any law enforcement agency look into my accounts, they would laugh over the allegations against me.”
Allegations against Patel’s father
The victims alleged that at first, Patel’s father seemed uninformed about what his son was doing. When some of the victims approached his father, he claimed to have no knowledge and promised them that he would help them in getting their money back. However, later he stopped picking up their calls and a few days back, Patel’s family in India has allegedly left their home and hiding somewhere else.
Allegations of threatening calls and messages
Some victims had alleged that Patel started to threaten them when they asked for their money. One of the victims, who is a married woman, was allegedly verbally abused by Patel over the call. We accessed an audio file where Patel was allegedly heard using curse words against the victim’s mother. OpIndia tried to reach out to the victim to verify the allegations but could not find more details. Similar threats were allegedly made by Patel towards other victims as well.
Navbharat Times, in a report in August, mentioned that Patel threatened the victims when they asked him to return their money.
Hitesh’s reply to the allegations
Hitesh claimed that all the recordings that were provided to OpIndia were edited. “In the audio that they claim I am abusing a lady, I can assure you that the conversation was not even with a lady. It was a man who was continuously abusing my wife”, he claimed. He said, “I cannot even show you what kind of derogatory and disturbing messages me and my family have received. If someone keeps abusing my family, how can they expect me not to abuse back?”
In the end, Hitesh said that he has no plans to run away and he is determined to refund the money but he needs time. “I will get it from the investors or the court, depending on their choice, not mine.” he also shared a link to a website where the details of pending refunds could be found. In the note on the website, he has promised to refund the amount in three months.
Note: We have approached other victims as well and waiting for their response in the case. The story will be updated accordingly.