Mumbai: Online classifieds ads’ portal used to dupe people on pretext of offering escort serviceshttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/mumbai-online-classifieds-ads-portal-used-to-dupe-people-on-pretext-of-offering-escort-services-5796152/

Mumbai: Online classifieds ads’ portal used to dupe people on pretext of offering escort services

Over the last year, several people using the website —  which provides dating, advertising, and escort services — have been duped of thousands of rupees, police said.

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People seeking escort services on Locanto.net reportedly have to pay charges to initiate conversation with a partner.

A man looking to date a woman online gets duped by fraudsters; another man who wants to even the score with a woman uploads her photographs online and she is flooded with obscene calls; a college student, who is told that he can earn as a “male escort” by uploading his details online, is cheated under various pretexts. In all these three cases, there is one common thing — an online classifieds website, Locanto.net.

Over the last year, several people using the website —  which provides dating, advertising, and escort services — have been duped of thousands of rupees, police said.

A crime branch senior inspector, who recently arrested a man for uploading a woman’s photograph on Locanto.net, allegedly identifying her as a sex worker, said: “Like in newspapers, these are online classifieds ads where people can post content. The platform, however, has been misused by several people even as it has become popular among a section looking for sexual services online.”

According to police, people seeking escort services on Locanto.net reportedly have to pay charges to initiate a conversation.

After the charges are paid, a ‘middleman’ initiates an online ‘chat’ with the client and reportedly sends photographs of some women. The client reportedly has to pay more money to actually chat with these women.

After paying these installments, mostly running into thousands, the client finally realises he has been cheated as the person at the other end either stops all communication, or, it is found that these women do not exist.

According to police, photographs of these women are randomly picked up from social media sites, without their knowledge.

Such misuse on the portal, a senior officer said, was not restricted to Mumbai. “While we have found its rampant misuse online, a website cannot be held culpable for the content posted. The website should, however, have a monitoring system whereby they can ensure that ads put up by fraudsters are weeded out from the site. They should also seek some verification before they allow ads to be posted online as these could be used to damage someone’s reputation online,” the officer said.

He added that the social service (SS) branch of the Mumbai police, which specialises in cracking down on the flesh trade, should also keep an eye on the website to bust possible sex trade.

An e-mail sent to Locanto.net, seeking their response on the matter, went unanswered.

Cyber expert Shubham Singh said that he has received several cases where college students using the portal were cheated.

“In several cases, ads are put up seeking men willing to engage in flesh trade for a fee. Some college students who enrolled for it were asked to pay a fee before they could be taken on board. Eventually, these students ended up making several payments before realising they had been cheated,” Singh said. “Another problem with such cases is that most people are hesitant in coming forward and lodging a complaint. Hence most cases go unregistered,” he said.