More fraud cases as India embraces marriage sites

Government pushes for portals to implement better verification processes to protect families

NEW DELHI - The Indian government has asked matrimonial websites to increase safeguards to prevent people from putting up fake profiles or information, amid dozens of cases of fraud.

While the websites offering the perfect match in marriage have not reacted to the push for tighter controls, groups such as the National Commission for Women have welcomed government oversight as a way to protect prospective brides and their families from cheats.

Some families have lost large sums because of lax verification processes in a fast-growing business which already has more than 55 million subscribers.

In January, police arrested 34-year-old Gaurav Joshi for setting up a fake profile on a matrimonial website. He started chatting on the phone to a Delhi-based family and convinced them to send 1.3 million rupees (S$26,000), but he disappeared after the money was deposited into a bank account.

 

Joshi, who was tracked down after a seven-month investigation, confessed to putting up fake profiles on different matrimonial sites, police said, often targeting rich families.

He has five similar cases of cheating lodged against him. He is in jail and facing trial. The maximum punishment for cheating is imprisonment for up to seven years. The family has yet to get back any money, said the police.

Such cases have prompted the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to "strongly advise" matrimonial websites to seek and upload ID and residential proof from users (an optional choice on most websites), declare that the websites are for matrimonial purposes, introduce user agreements to ensure marriage is the intent, not dating, and store the IP address of profiles for at least a year.

"There have been complaints of fraud, misuse of information uploaded on the matrimonial websites... In most of the cases, victims are women who fall prey to these fraudsters after getting introduced through fake profiles on matrimonial portals," the ministry noted in a June 7 letter sent to all matrimonial websites.

In a country where most marriages are still arranged, websites in many cases have replaced the more traditional methods of approaching the neighbourhood priest or next-door aunty for news of single men and women.

The number of websites such as Matrimony.com, Shaadi.com and SimplyMarry.com has ballooned in the past decade to more than 1,000 by some estimates.

"Neither the government nor the portal can ensure intent," said Ms Puneet Bhasin, a cyber law expert, who urged Web portals to improve their verification process.

"A large number of matrimonial sites are dating sites. They are pitching it as arranged marriage but it is not really that. You don't just meet and date one person. They are meeting a large number of people."

Though there are no statistics or even an estimate on the number of fake profiles, police and lawyers The Straits Times spoke to said that they were increasingly encountering such cases.

Typically, most matrimonial sites also offer packages for better matchmaking services, like a relationship manager, costing up to US$800 (S$1,000) for six months.

According to a 2013 assessment by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India, the online matrimonial business is expected to be worth 15 billion rupees by 2017, up from 5.3 billion rupees in 2013.

Those running matrimonial websites, however, maintain that the number of matches made through online webites far outnumbered the fake profiles.

Mr Murugavel Janakiraman, managing director of Matrimony.com, said it already had phone verification and gave registered members the option of uploading ID proof "to add credibility to their profiles".

"This is not about buying a product, it helps people connect with each other. After that, people need to follow due diligence. The purpose of the website is matrimony," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2016, with the headline 'More fraud cases as India embraces marriage sites'. Print Edition | Subscribe