"How could I be so stupid?" It's the question that repeats in Nidhi Razdan's brain. She's the former NDTV news anchor who in January revealed she had been the victim of a sophisticated scam: one in which she quit her high-profile job to take a position within Harvard's journalism department—except the job offer was a fake. In a lengthy piece for the New York Times, Jeffrey Gettleman, Kate Conger, and Suhasini Raj dig into the scam, revealing that a number of other female journalists in India were targeted around the same period. Why is still unclear (the piece shares a few theories, but none are ironclad), as is the motive: Though they wrangled personal info out of the women, it doesn't look like there was any financial or identity theft, nor any extortion.
But one point did crystallize through the group's reporting: that "the people—or person—behind the hoax were relentless," relying on "a constellation of interlocking personas across Twitter, Facebook, Gmail and WhatsApp to pursue the women for months at a time." While Razdan fell for the full scam, others managed to smell a rat midway through. They describe similar experiences: being contacted in the second half of 2019 by a purported Harvard master's student named Tauseef Ahmad who offered an invite to a media conference. And whoever was behind Ahmad and the other characters is good. The Times reports researchers from Stanford University and the University of Toronto, as well as a cyber security expert, were unable to use the accounts, emails, and other digital clues to track down the identity of anyone involved. "It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen," said one. "It’s a huge amount of effort and no payoff that we’ve identified." (Read the full story for more, including what Razdan is doing now.)