On February 15, Twitter users raised an alarm about an alleged online racket that purportedly runs into crores of rupees.
All eyes were on businessman Hiteshkumar Gordhanbhai Patel, or Neel Patel, the founder of Squeaks, a social media platform ostensibly conceived for rightwing voices. Users alleged that Squeaks and its sister venture, Naarad Pay, an online payment company, had swindled users of crores of rupees through a supposed scheme providing Apple iPhones for cheap.
The call-out campaign on Twitter was led by a user named Nishant, who in a YouTube video, also featuring Abhimanyu Singh Rana, that Patel had given iPhones only to a fraction of those who paid for them.
Understand the methodology:— Nishant (@nishant_india) February 16, 2021
If he collects money for 100 iPhones, he delivering iphone to 20-30 people while prioritizing deliveries to Twitter influencers.
The remaining 70 folks - who are probably not influencers - would get completely duped. Nothing ever reaches to them.
Patel made a claiming that the duo, popular among the Hindu right, were lying, and trying to corner him at the behest of his rival, one Germany-based Prabhakar Thapa.
The face-off turned one rightwinger against another, dividing them by their allegiance, or lack of it, to an iPhone scheme. “This is why we Indians were slaves for 700 years,” one user. “Clearly one side is wrong and whosoever it’s will be a big loss to RW. Let's wait to hear the other side too.”
In October last year, Patel devised a canny business plan to promote Squeaks and Naarad Pay: he floated a scheme selling cheap iPhones, and sought endorsement by popular rightwing figures, some of whom seemed to have received the iPhones themselves. They include people at OpIndia, whose editor, Nupur Sharma, claimed she “chose to ‘redeem’ only what” the needed – iPhones, that is – out of the three Rs 3-lakh coupons gifted by Patel’s company to her, OpIndia owner Rahul Roushan, and OpIndia Hindi editor Ajeet Bharti.
“These days, if you just keep muttering Hindu, Hindutva, saffron, armed forces and atmanirbhar, rightwing Twitter users will erect a business for you,” a rightwing influencer told Newslaundry on the condition of anonymity. “It’s like a disorder among rightwingers.”
The Twitter handles of Squeaks and Naarad Pay were on February 17. Patel’s tweets from 2020 cannot be viewed.
However, as Twitter now plumbs the depths of this alleged fraud, and users make desperate pleas about the loss they have incurred, the endorsers have disassociated themselves from Patel through tiny tweets. It’s that easy.
My dear friends I have no association with @SqueaksMedia and @nto1927. I promoted only because Neel claimed its Indian SM platform. Neither I received any kind of gift nor the iphone mentioned in squeaks contest. I stopped promoting and using Squeaks when I came to know ..— Dr.Monika Langehð®ð³ (@drmonika_langeh) February 14, 2021
Introducing the iPhone scheme, Patel had said the gadgets would be delivered within six to eight weeks of payment. When this didn’t happen, several Twitter users inquired about their orders. We reached out to more than half a dozen such users.
However, Newslaundry could not establish that Patel’s iPhone scheme was a scam, in that he tricked his customers to make money. The majority of those we spoke to had either received their phones or a full refund – albeit after a frustrating delay.
Scam or not?
A Maharashtra-based businessman, 50, told me over the phone that he had come across Patel’s offer in October last year after a popular rightwing Twitter account tweeted about it.
This customer paid for an iPhone 11 since Patel was selling it for Rs 29,449, as against the MRP of Rs 51,999. At least Rs 3,000 of this sum was attached to a cashback plan, which transferred small amounts of money to customers on a monthly basis in a Naarad Pay account.
“I didn’t get my phone after six weeks, so I began following up with them regularly,” the customer said. “I finally received the iPhone in December.”
The customer said he found the gadget to be satisfactory. However, while he was told the phone would be shipped from the United States, it had been sent from a store in Bengaluru. “That’s the only thing that itched me,” he said. Regardless, he also bought a Samsung M51 Patel was — Rs 8,000 cheaper than the MRP — coupled with a yearly cashback plan.
Nitin Grover, a 40-year-old lawyer, for an iPhone 12 on October 19. When I reached out to him on Twitter, Nitin tweeted that he did not believe he was scammed, but was disappointed with Patel. Two months after his order was placed, Naarad Pay told Grover in December they did not have an iPhone of his choice of color. But after the lawyer applied for a refund in January, he duly received it in full.
“I wanted to get the phone, not my money back,” Nitin wrote. “But they followed up and ensured that I received a full refund of the amount.”
Can share my experience in public. No fraud happened with me. All i can say is i was disappointed on not getting the phone. When i followed up with @NaaradPay they shared they did not have my choice of color of iphone & insisted that i can take refund & convert order to cod 1/2— Nitin (@nitingrover787) February 17, 2021
A government employee in Maharashtra, 30, was similarly left high and dry. After placing an order in October, he followed up with Patel’s company until January. “First I was told that they did not have an iPhone with the colour I wanted,” the customer told me over the phone. “When I said I could do with whatever colour was available, I was told the memory preference could not be delivered. So I applied for a refund.”
Contrary to allegations that Patel threatened those who sought accountability from him, the government employee said the six or seven emails he exchanged with the company were proper. The businessman confirmed this.
But even though this customer received a refund in January, he thinks the scheme was a scam. “My money was with someone else for four months. I want to know why,” he said. “Plus, I had paid by credit card. So even though I got the refund, I ended up losing more because I paid interest. I think it’s a scam.”
The government employee was introduced to Patel’s scheme by a friend, who told Newslaundry the refund happened because he had access to one of Patel’s business associates. “But it is possible that those who do not have such access have lost their money,” he said.
Dinesh Suthar, 28, from Jodhpur, Rajasthan, faced a similar ordeal. He had seen rightwing twitter influencers post about the cheap iPhones in October 2020. He placed an order, but emails show that but by the end of December, Naarad Pay was telling Suthar the iPhones were out of stock. “They said that they would refund the money and then I can order an iPhone through cash on delivery. I gave them a go ahead, but the iPhone never came,” he said, adding that the entire scheme was a scam to get money from a large pool of people but deliver to a select few.
Newslaundry reached out to two Twitter users who had tweeted to Patel to inquire about the iPhones. They told me that they had received the devices in January and February, respectively. One of them is Amit Saxena.
“Honestly, my experience was good,” said Saxena, who got his phone last month. “The team called me and apprised me of the delay and they were ready to refund my money. I refused to take the refund and requested them to expedite the delivery, which they did.”
Another Twitter user, Devesh, tweeted to me to say that he received his iPhone in January, although its “delivery was delayed a lot”.
We contacted Nishant and Rana and asked them to put us in touch with customers who had lost money because of the iPhone scheme. While Nishant did not respond, Rana told us he would ask those affected. “If anyone wants to talk,” he wrote, “will connect directly.”
The alarming claims of scam don’t quite figure in Patel’s gizmos bonanza. However, , an online course founded by the businessman, faces serious allegations of fraud from a customer.
A student, 23, told Newslaundry he had paid Rs 50,000 to Patel’s eGyaan and signed up for a course on cryptotrading in December last year, which not only offered tutorials but a job that paid at least Rs 50,000 for the first few months. An email accessed by Newslaundry shows that the student indeed secured a spot for the course.
But the lecture links for the course never came. “I was scammed out of my wits,” said the student, who is now mulling over legal action against Patel. “The new batch did not start and eGyaan’s Twitter handle has disappeared suddenly. I can't reach them anymore and they haven't reached out to me.”
Who is Neel Patel?
Patel popped up on Indian Twitter in December 2019, Hindutva credo in one hand and lucrative schemes in the other. His was an intoxicating cocktail of ideological and financial flavours.
In his heyday, rightwing influencers on Twitter took to Patel like ducks to water, thanks to his Modi-loving, liberal-hating, Hindu-nationalist digital persona. He was followed by film director Vivek Agnihotri, IPL founder and fugitive Lalit Modi, and BJP national spokesperson Syed Shahnawaz Hussain. Patel’s claims of aligning Squeaks and Naarad Pay with "Make in India", the Narendra Modi government’s scheme to encourage indigenous manufacturing, and of donating to pandemic relief in the country also enabled him to score points on the Hindu right.
Newslaundry spoke to a person who has closely followed Patel’s business over the past eight months. “People are stupid. Nobody did the math when this man made tall claims,” the source said. “Everything about this man is fake.”
Patel had introduced himself to this person in mid-2020 as a Kentucky-based businessman who drove cabs in the US until 2012. His life changed, Patel had told this source, when he won a lottery worth $350 million that year. He began dealing in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum and operating on a forex trading website called Penny Robot.
“He told me he had 300 employees in his companies,” the source said. “I googled him and couldn’t find much.”
Piqued, the source claims to have sent someone to verify Patel's company address in a Gujarat village with the Registrar of Companies. “The address didn’t exist. No one knew this man there,” the source gasped.
Patel had claimed to have received orders for 8,000 iPhones, the source recalled. “There are people I know who have ordered four phones, one even ordered 18. They thought they would cash in on this tremendous offer, even sell a couple of phones at normal rates.”
When the phones did not arrive, people began applying for refunds. Naturally, even that took weeks. “He was threatening people left, right and centre,” the source added. “He claimed that he was the son of a BJP MLA and that prime minister Modi visited his home.”
Newslaundry accessed private messages of those affected by Patel’s ventures. They fretted over delayed deliveries, the dreary customer service, their money. The frustrations were also vented out online.
Thank You Dr. Monika for being truthful and vocal.— Sonika Sharma (@sonikasdutta) February 14, 2021
As per squeaks I won squeaks contest but I never received the iPhone.I bought squeaks communicator but never got the device.
I have uninstalled squeaks and all its apps.A request to Mr. Neel don't fool innocents. https://t.co/0gPmma8Nvk pic.twitter.com/bcnJGUajON
@nto1927 neel bhaiya please iPhone kab atha bhaiya 90 days hoga Oct 20 book kara Bhai kab ayaga Bhai mera life May paila time me iPhone liya tera tumara tarapse meraku iPhone 11 come rate May milra kab ayaga bhai places jaldi bejao plz plz plz bhai— Rohidas Dharavath (@RohidasDharava1) January 16, 2021
Neel bhai iphone 12 pro order ka koie update nahi mil raha. It has been more than 2 months now.— Chandan Kumar (@chandan_2609) December 30, 2020
Hi Neel, Any update on iPhone 12 pro. It has also been more than 2 months.— samir choudhary (@samirchoudhar75) December 30, 2020
Neel bro, can you please take a look my request , been following up from last few days ...please reply back at your convenient time, Ive ordered iPhone 11 through naaradpay, can you please tell status# 3133 ,I understand that problem is with vendor and not you , but still an eta— praneethkumar (@praneethjkumar) December 10, 2020
Same. I live in Ahmedabad, 20th oct order. Still no tracking id...and they are shipping 400+ order everyday. Kinda getting suspicious with each passing day.— Ram Krishna (@rk21691) November 30, 2020
A friend of mine also has his money stuck with @nto1927 & it's not a small amount. I reached out to Neel today & told him he needs to pay the due amount to my friend. He has promised he will, by end of this week. Allegations against him are scary but m still pinning some hope ð— Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj (@DeepikaBhardwaj) February 16, 2021
'Targeted fake campaign'
A change.org started by a former client of Patel’s at levels serious allegations against him.
“I must say, initially he did make small payments to a few clients here and there, but then he would employ delay tactics on the remaining payments,” the petitioner writes, noting a pattern also seen in the iPhone scheme. “I pressured him on many occasions to keep to his promises and pay back all his clients but he had excuses after excuses.”
The petitioner also put up a supposed between Patel and Penny Robot customers to showcase his “lies and delaying tactics”.
Similarly, Twitter and Facebook allege that Patel is a “scamster” who targets small investors and cuts them off when they confront him about payments.
In response, the businessman has claimed on Twitter that the allegations against him are part of a “targeted fake campaign” to tarnish his image and that they are not backed by evidence.
Bas allegations ka video banaake kuchh rt ya likes loge? Proofs rakho proofs. With each transaction details. And whatever you have claimed.— NEEL (@nto1927) February 15, 2021
Bhai fraud koi nahi, par Social Media pe kisi ki bhi Image kharab karne main 2 fake screenshot daal dunga aur bolunga I have ordered xyz and not received even I have never ordered an saamne waal bhale prove karta rahe. This is what going on a targeted fake campaign. https://t.co/uE0mMG3JHI— NEEL (@nto1927) February 14, 2021
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