A screenshot of the con website that lured many foreigners into paying for virtual puja at Kalighat
A Serampore resident has been arrested for luring foreigners into offering “virtual puja” at Kalighat and other temples for a hefty fee through a con website whose only connection with divinity is its domain name.
Cops from the cyber crime cell arrested Sanjay Basu, 43, when he was headed for Calcutta airport on Monday with a Norwegian woman to board a flight to Varanasi.
The police said the woman had paid Basu to be her Varanasi guide, one of the many “spirituality services” offered through the website www.kalighatonline.com.
The Kalighat temple trust called Basu’s bluff after learning from devotees living abroad that they had offered virtual puja “through its website”.
Unlike some shrines, the Kalighat temple trust does not offer any online services. “We discovered that the accused had developed the website with a domain name containing the word ‘Kalighat’ so that foreign devotees wouldn’t suspect foul play. Not only Kalighat, he lured foreigners into offering online puja at other shrines,” joint commissioner of police (crime) Damayanti Sen said.
Over time, Basu’s online reach spread beyond Kalighat to 20-odd other pilgrimage centres, include Tarapith in Birbhum, Tarakeswar in Hooghly, Dakshineswar in North 24-Parganas and the Jagannath shrine in Puri.
The police received a complaint from the Kalighat temple trust in July last year but it wasn’t easy to trace Basu.
As the cyber cops hunted for him, the 43-year-old con man continued selling spirituality to unsuspecting foreigners — everything from a litre of Gangajal for $74.75 (including shipping) to Sholapith idols for $41 per piece.
“The online puja package varied between Rs 700 and Rs 12,000 per offering, depending on the shrine. Most of those who paid for the service apparently found no reason to suspect that they were being conned,” an officer said.
The method of payment was through Paypal or CCNow. “We have traced all accounts linked to the website,” joint commissioner Sen said.
The police tracked Basu through the Internet Protocol address of the computer used to develop the website.
A resident of 57/4 Raja Rammohan Sarani in Serampore, Basu had been running the website for at least a year. “He has been charged with cheating and forgery and also booked under the IT Act,” an officer said.
Basu does not hold the mandatory Reserve Bank of India licence to draw public money online for any cause.