D. Jha had planned a family vacation in Puri during Durga Puja. While looking for contact details of a hotel on the internet, he came across a number.
Jha dialled the number and a man answered the call, identifying himself as an official of the hotel in Puri. He sent Jha a QR code, scanning which the Tiljala resident paid Rs 10,000 to book a room.
Soon after, the family realised that they had been duped as the man had stopped answering their calls.
The police said many Kolkatans who had tried to book hotel rooms during or before the Puja by calling numbers they had come across through internet searches shared Jha’s fate.
The police said the number of other online frauds might have come down during the festive period, but an increasing number of people are being duped while trying to make hotel reservations during the Puja holidays, a favourite vacation window for many in the state.
“Puri is one of the most favourite holiday destinations for Bengalis. Many of the cases that have been reported to the police are related to hotel bookings in Puri,” said an officer in the bank fraud section in the detective department of the Kolkata police.
The police said the most common mistake people make is to search for the contact number of a hotel through a search engine.
“Search engines can be manipulated. Fraudsters often manipulate them in a way that when someone searches for the phone number of a hotel or some other organisation, the number entered by the fraudsters appear at the top,” the officer said.
“If the hotel you are looking for has a website, note down
the contact number from that site.”
Like Jha, a resident each of Entally and Muchipara were cheated out of thousands of rupees when they tried to make hotel bookings in Puri a few weeks ago.
A senior police officer explained the modus operandi used by the fraudsters: “As the victim contacts a fraudulent phone number and books a room, he is sent a payment link or a QR code. Money sent by scanning the QR code goes to the fraudster. And if you click on the link, apart from losing the money to fraudsters, it could result in the
installation of malware in the phone and the fraudsters will have complete access to the device.”
The officer said there were relatively fewer complaints on the festival days related to impersonation on social media, cheating with the lure of installation of telecom towers on one’s premises and blackmailing after befriending through social media.
“The number of complaints were fewer compared with other times of the year. But there were more cases of fraud related to hotel booking,” said the officer.