Important questions to consider in the Nidhi Razdan phishing claim

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It’s increasingly difficult to believe Indian journalist Nidhi Razdan. She claims she was duped into believing she had an associate professorship waiting for her at Harvard University.

Razdan took to social media on Friday, stating she had fallen victim to a phishing attack that had convinced her that she would be teaching at Harvard. She insists she quit her job at a prominent Indian TV network in June of last year because of the new position, which she asserts was supposed to begin in the fall but was then pushed to January of this year. She claims that only recently did she become concerned there was no faculty spot for her.

Let’s consider some of the important questions Razdan must answer about her “employment” at Harvard. Because the uncomfortable reality is if she isn’t the victim of a hoax then she might be a participant in one.

  1. Who interviewed Razdan about the job? If the answer is no one, then a troubling question arises: How could a woman with over two decades in the professional world truly believe she had a teaching position at one of America’s most prominent universities if she had never formally spoken to multiple people at the institution? In addition, would she not have taken time to look up the men or women who were speaking to her, if there were any interviews, so she could learn something about them? That examination of Harvard employees also could have helped her identify someone lying about working there as he or she “interviewed” her.
  2. What employment information — including a contract and benefits — did she receive from Harvard? Did she carefully review these documents, or did she simply and gleefully sign them before returning them to…whom and at what email or mailing address? Here again, to accept the phishing claim, we must believe she inked her name to faked documents.
  3. Did Razdan ever go online and take a look at Harvard’s educational offerings? If she had, she’d have quickly realized the university offers no journalism program and therefore there are no journalism faculty. We have to accept she never did her homework, and that alone raises doubts about her phishing claim. She’s a journalist, so she should be quite familiar with investigating stories, topics and people. How could she not access the university’s website to learn more about the place she’d be working? And if she did, how could she have missed seeing no information about journalism at Harvard?
  4. Why did Razdan publicly promote on social media she was an associate professor at Harvard before she had ever stepped foot onto the campus? There are screenshots showing in recent weeks or months she had changed at least one of her social media accounts to indicate she was a Harvard associate professor. We’ve all heard that line that “nothing is official until it’s official,” and there’s ample evidence her “employment” was never official.
  5. Indians are well represented at America’s colleges and universities, including at Harvard. At any point did Razdan reach out to any of them in order to gain an understanding of what teaching at a U.S. university would be like? Such conversations would have allowed her to share her plans with people who certainly could have warned her about the absence of a journalism program at Harvard.
  6. Is there any evidence that any personal information Razdan might have shared has been used against her? Access to the Indian equivalent to Americans’ social security numbers, for example, would have offered the scammers opportunity to damage her. Has that happened?

I recognize we know precious little about this story right now. Presuming Razdan kept all communications and documents she received, she ought to be able to craft a narrative detailing why she believed she was joining the faculty at one of America’s premier universities. (For what it’s worth, it appears Razdan doesn’t hold a terminal degree in any academic discipline.)

As I read Razdan’s claims, I was reminded of the cat fishing story forever linked to former Notre Dame linebacker Mante Te’o. Even now, more than eight years later, there are questions about that uncomfortable period of his life. I know phishing and cat fishing aren’t the same; however, the elaborate nature of any such scam demands the person who claims to be a victim prove his or her innocence.

It’s incumbent on Razdan to do just that. And there are difficult questions she must address in that process.

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