Match-making portal Bharatmatrimony cannot be held responsible for a user’s negligence and carelessness, the Bombay High Court has said while quashing an FIR registered against the online service for cheating.
The FIR was filed by a woman who was allegedly cheated of nearly Rs 3 lakh by a man whose profile she found on the site.
The woman, a divorcee, got herself registered on the site after paying Rs 2,800 with Bharatmatrimony on June 2, 2014. After about 10 days, the matrimonial portal sent her a profile of a person named Michael Willams. The woman gathered information about the man and found he was from the UK.
The woman started communicating with Williams through email and subsequently learnt that he was to visit Mumbai on July 21, 2014. She reached Mumbai airport on the scheduled day.
She, however, received a call from a woman, who identified herself as Sofia Bajaj from New Delhi’s “Customs department” and said Williams had to pay duty as he was in possession of foreign currency. Not sensing anything amiss, the woman deposited Rs 24,500 in the account number given to her and got a receipt. Again, on July 22 and July 23, the woman a total of Rs 79,500 in an account after being told by Bajaj that Williams was carrying foreign currency worth Rs 6 crore and therefore required an “anti-terrorist certificate” for which the money had to be paid. Some time later, the woman was told that Williams’ case was being forwarded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for approval and that as the sum being carried by William was to be transferred to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), she was required to deposit Rs 1.89 lakh. The woman again obliged.
It was when she was asked to pay Rs 55,000 for filling an online registration form that she smelt something fishy and refused to pay up. The woman reached Delhi on July 25, 2014, and rang up Bajaj, who said Williams was on his way to the RBI.
She called Williams, who told her he would not be able to meet her. She enquired with the RBI about the emails and the receipts she had got and found to her shock that neither the emails nor the receipts were genuine.
The woman returned to Mumbai and went to Bharatmatrimony’s office where she found that Williams’ profile had been suspended on June 21, 2014. Aggrieved at being cheated of over Rs 2.93 lakh, the woman got an FIR registered against the duo and the service provider saying the company ought to have intimated her about the suspension of Williams’ account.
The company argued that it was the member’s responsibility to verify the credentials of prospective match and take it forward after registration. It also said there were safety tips provided by the company to make members aware of phishing and fraud.
The woman, though, argued that the matrimony service worked in collusion with Williams and Bajaj.
After hearing the arguments, Justices Ranjit More and Anuja Prabhudessai ruled on March 23 that despite the safety instructions given by the company, the woman brought upon the situation on herself due to her own negligence and carelessness and held that the company could not be held responsible.
Even assuming that it was the obligation on the part of the company to inform about the suspension of Williams’ profile, they cannot be held criminally liable for cheating in the absence of any inducement by the applicants fraudulently or dishonestly to part with the money, the court said, while quashing the FIR.
Cyber experts say cases of online fraud has seen a jump of 350 per cent as compared to last year in Mumbai. Prashant Mali, cyber law expert and lawyer, says government should come out with tools for compulsory Know Your Customer (KYC) for all the matrimony sites. “Once such kind of fraud is done where the police investigate, the KYC received from matrimony site should match the actual KYC. If it does not, the onus should lie on the matrimony site,” he says.
He says public exhibition of profile of prospective brides and grooms should be mandatorily restricted only to interested parties. “If such database is available free on Google, then matrimony sites should take steps to immediately remove the profiles from whichever sites it is being displayed,” he says.