Instances such as the arrest of Gaurav Dhamija who made women deposit money into his account after promising an alliance with them, or the case of Balamurugan, an engineer residing in Germany, who became a victim of a matrimonial scam and came to know that his prospective partner Shruthi alias Mythili Venkatesh had cheated six men to the tune of several crores in connivance with her gang, are just a couple among many such that raise red flags about matrimonial sites flourishing in the country. They underline the fact that these can be, and are being rampantly used as platforms for cheating and fraud.
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In a nation obsessed with marriage and where urban citizens are increasingly adopting the online route to find matches, Cyber Law Due Diligence thus becomes a very important tool, perhaps the only one that can put an end to the use of matrimonial and dating sites as means of deception and fraud.
Cyber Law Due Diligence means taking “Proper and Reasonable Care and Caution” while dealing with online/technological transactions and activities. It is the responsibility of matrimonial sites to ensure that their platforms are not misused for committing cybercrimes or traditional crimes against an unsuspecting clientele. Unfortunately, however, not only are these sites completely indifferent to it, even the Indian government is overlooking the fact that Cyber Law Due Diligence is being routinely flouted by various technology stakeholders in India.
Says Prashant Bhushan, public interest lawyer in the Supreme Court of India and an activist, “Cheating and fraud through matrimonial sites are crimes punishable under the Indian Penal Code. There should be laws to regulate the activities of these sites.”
Prashant Mali, International Cyber Law & Privacy Law Expert, Cyber Policy Leader, and Bombay High Court Lawyer says, “Matrimonial sites are called intermediaries within the definition of law. They are responsible for the frauds that are perpetrated through their sites. Matrimonial sites do not have stringent KYC (Know Your Customer) procedures in place and hence readily accept documents/facts provided by fake profiles, which result in fraud being committed. One solution can be that they move to eKYC. Another solution could be provision for insurance, which will enable clients to make claims in instances of fraud.”
The present scenario
Matrimonial sites come under IT Act 2000 and there are no clear rules in this act where liabilities of the sites are fixed. “The service providers should be made liable. Only then would they take care to ensure that their sites do not function as platforms for committing fraud,” he says.
Prashant Mali has handled more than fifty cases that happened through matrimonial sites. In one instance, a single mother paid the potential marriage partner Rs 60 lakh from the proceeds of selling her own flat. She was working in IATA and the man pretended to be a pilot in an international airlines and appeared to match all her requirements. In another instance, a widow parted with Rs 45 lakh which she received from the organization where her late husband had worked.
“When victims file a police case against unknown persons for cheating, the police should also book the matrimonial sites as parties to abetment. Only then would these sites take steps to prevent such frauds,” says Mali.
But it is not just facilitation of fraud, there is also the question of service delivery. Online marriage service providers themselves adopt a business model that offers premium packages for the same service provided. Some users complain that they get to see pretty much the same profiles for long periods of time, despite renewing their package or upgrading. Marketing executives monitor their moves initially and call them, asking them to upgrade their packages to more expensive ones with the promise that they can get profiles of their choice faster and with lesser effort.
Such premium packages cost several thousands or even lakhs of rupees and offer the services of a relationship manager to forge matrimonial alliances. But no mandatory qualifications have been laid out by the government or the sites for relationship managers, who are entrusted with such critical responsibilities. Padma Anilkumar, a psychologist in Chennai has taken up a premium package from a market leader, paying Rs 85,000 for a six-month package, which they say is a discounted rate! For this, she gets two profiles a week, shortlisted by a relationship manager, who is herself a young and unmarried girl. “Four months have passed and we have not found a single matching profile. There is no guarantee of anything happening,” she says.
So, what are the success rates of marriages through these sites? There is no transparency on that, as there is no verifiable information or data in the public domain.
“Retaining customers for long periods of time with an intent to make money is not a fair practice and falls under Deficiency of Service under the Consumer Protection Act, says Mali, “When a customer pays a price, he should be given good and competent service. If they do not have competent persons as relationship managers to mediate between two parties, it falls under Deficiency of Services,” he clarifies, “I have made a demand to the government that there should be rules and regulations for matrimonial and dating websites, keeping Indian culture in mind.”
There are also clear instances of lack of due diligence on the part of these websites. A lady who wishes to remain unnamed, was going through profiles of prospective grooms for her daughter on a popular matrimonial site, when she came across a demand which mentioned that the girl should be capable of bringing substantial wealth into the family! Aware that this could fall under the Dowry Prohibition Act she immediately sent a screenshot to the site, which asked the errant member to remove just that one line. “Such profiles should be removed entirely and not allowed to be put up in the first place,” says Mali.
The angst of many quoted here just about sums up the plight of hundreds of worried parents and prospective brides and grooms who use online matrimonial services. Having said that, there continues to be, undoubtedly, a very large demand for such services. So how should one really go about seeking a match on an online site?
How to Use Matrimonial Sites
- Verify details mentioned in the profile you are interested
- Check social media handles for further information about the person. If you do not find details on any social media, it is a red flag
- Once you decide to go ahead, it is your responsibility to find out whether details given about the individual’s qualification, job, family background and such details are indeed true
- Try to make enquiries through common friends and contacts about the person’s career and personal life.
- If you notice any content in a profile demanding money or property, report to the site
- If a person you met through the site seems suspicious and you find incriminating evidence upon digging deeper, report to the site and the police
- Do not interact too closely with the person till you have satisfied yourself about his credentials. Be particularly wary of profiles/photographs that are hidden, and where details of parents, family and job are not mentioned
- Never ever part with money (or anything) before marriage
- Do not send intimate photographs or messages before marriage
- Do not divulge financial details before marriage