Over the years, the traditional matchmaking process in India has gone through tremendous change. Especially after the COVID pandemic, online matchmaking appears to be making big inroads in the matrimony business. At the same time, the number of cases of matrimonial fraud is also increasing rapidly. In most cases, the victims are women, and at least one or two such cases are being reported by newspapers almost every week. The fraudsters all lurk online – sometimes on matrimonial sites, but also on social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram, where they quickly escalate an exchange of messages into a claimed romance.
A 39-year-old woman working as the regional head (sales) in a private bank, lost Rs2.8 lakh in cyber fraud after a man, who introduced himself as a product manager in an American company, 'showed interest' in her matrimonial profile. The accused chatted with her for a few days before asking her to send him money, says a report from Times of India
In another case, a man, who met a woman from Nagpur on a matrimonial site, said he was sending a car as a gift to his 'future' wife from Poland. The only issue was that the man needed her to help to pay Rs3.32 lakh customs duty to have it released from the customs department. She sent the money to the bank account number shared by the man in Poland. Once he received the money, the communication went cold. After realising that she was taken for a royal ride, the woman filed a complaint with Ajni police station in Nagpur, says a report from NagpurToday.
Last year, Mumbai police arrested one Aditya alias Tanmay Mhatre for cheating several women through matrimonial sites. According to the police, on matrimonial sites, he posed as a scientist with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) or with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which of course, is bogus.
"Mr Mhatre initially shows reluctance in meeting prospective brides, but once they insist, he keeps the meeting at a five-star hotel where he comes in a chauffeur-driven car to impress the women. Once he gains their confidence, he starts demanding money. The police said he claimed to have cheated over 50 women; however, they have found only 14 cases against him registered in Pune, Navi-Mumbai, Mumbai and Thane jurisdiction," says a report from Hindustan Times.
All these cases are a representative and minuscule part of an enormous fraud taking place across the country. While almost all matrimonial sites claim to have adequate safeguards to prevent such scams, the cheating continues.
Matrimonial sites or apps do not have any stringent KYC (know-your-customer) procedures in place and readily accept documents or facts provided by fake profiles, which enables and facilitates fraud.
One major difference between cybercrime and matrimonial fraud is the time taken to execute the plan. While cybercriminals are always in a hurry, fraudsters in matrimonial cases spend more time and sometimes money to impress and gain the full confidence of the victim. In most matrimonial frauds, the modus operandi is similar -- the victims are promised expensive gifts but are required to pay some money to actually receive them.
In one case, a 32-year-old female engineer working with a state-run company ended up paying Rs57 lakh as currency conversion charges, insurance, and security charges apart from various taxes to receive a 'gift' ostensibly sent by her prospective match from abroad.
Often, lonely, middle-aged or single women become easy targets for matrimonial frauds, but there are some male victims too. Two years ago, the Pune police busted a gang of nine women and two men who cheated several over-aged men under the pretext of marrying them to a pretty, smart girl from a poor family. The only issue, the bride would run away with all the jewellery and cash just before the honeymoon!
Last year, the Jabalpur police arrested a 28-year-old woman who allegedly cheated eight men in a similar way. The police also arrested some 'relatives' of the woman, who were part of the scam. "She would marry a man and flee with jewellery and cash after a few days. Thus, she cheated men in Jaipur, Kota and Dholpur in Rajasthan and Damoh and Sagar in Madhya Pradesh,” a police official told OneIndia.
The issue of matrimonial fraud is quite serious and much bigger in numbers than reported. Most victims feel shy and, due to the social stigma (associated with such incidents), fail to file a first information report (FIR).
Information security awareness (infosecawareness.in), a website created by the Union ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) has a page dedicated to matrimonial frauds.
Here are the red flags shared by InfoSecAwareness to watch out for on matrimonial sites or apps. If the fraudsters...
- Are not willing to show their face, reluctant to come on video chat, profile photo may not be theirs, reluctant to meet in person
- Ask for a money transfer, citing some emergency, initially a small sum and later a large amount
- May not have a social profile or have few friends on social media
- Hesitate to share family/ workplace details
- Express "love" too quickly even before fully understanding each other
- The profile looks too good to be true for that person to express interest in you
- They call from multiple numbers. They usually don't give a number to call back. Even if they give you a number, they don't pick up when you call. Later, they call you back from a new number
- Sound inconsistent or confusing when you ask for personal details
- Are in a mad rush for early marriage without a valid reason
- Request for deletion of your profile immediately after getting in touch with you
- Ask for email user name/ password or credit card/ bank account details
- Come up with false stories to gain sympathy
Even the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) issued an advisory cautioning people about matrimonial fraud
. The MHA asks people to use verified matrimonial sites, create a new email ID for these websites, always do a background check of the prospective match and keep the family informed.
While warning never to share sensitive information, the ministry also asks not to entertain any request for money from the prospective match. "Always be careful while dealing with non-resident Indian (NRI) profiles on matrimonial websites. Commit to marriage only after face-to-face meetings, especially with the prospective match's parents or relatives and validating any documents related to their address and employment abroad," it says.
Finding a life partner—and the right one—is not an easy task. It takes time to meet the one you are waiting for. However, do not let yourself in any pit just because things are not going right or due to pressure from family or relatives to get married as soon as possible.
The key to finding love and happiness online is to 'Stay Alert'.
How To Report Cyberfraud?
Do report cyber crimes to the national cybercrime reporting portal http://cybercrime.gov.in or call the toll-free national helpline number, 1930. To follow on social media: Twitter (@Cyberdost), Facebook (CyberDostI4C), Instagram (cyberdostl4C), Telegram (cyberdosti4c).
Stay Alert, Stay Safe!