Google pages of many Darjeeling hotels, including premier properties, have been compromised en bloc in such a way that customers booking rooms are directed to pay advance amounts to bank accounts which don’t belong to the owners of the accommodations.
The widespread tampering with the Google pages comes at a time there is a rush to book hotel rooms for the upcoming tourism season.
Any individual who looks for hotels in Darjeeling using the Google search engine will come across prominent photographs containing the hackers’ phone numbers (see picture) in a section where the pictures of rooms and amenities are posted.
Sources said Google pages of around 60 hotels in Darjeeling and a few in Kalimpong had been defaced.
Even though other hotel reservation sites like booking. com and makemytrip.com are not affected, the owners of accommodations in Darjeeling say many customers also rely on the Google search engine to get information about such properties at a particular place.
“Many hotels have reported the same problem. In fact, I have already come across 20- odd individuals who have fallen prey to the trap after trying to book rooms at a single hotel of mine,” said Samir Singhal, the general secretary of the Darjeeling Hotel Owners’ Association.
Singhal runs a number of hotels in Darjeeling. The 20- odd complaints relate to his Hotel Sunflower, which is situated at Chowrasta. “I do not know how many complaints I might receive in the days to come,” he said.
The Telegraph came across misinformation about most of the Darjeeling hotels that do decent online business. Google pages of premier properties in Darjeeling, including Windamere, May Fair, New Elgin, Ramada and Muscatel, have been compromised.
Navin Thapa, the managing director of Muscatel Group of Hotels, said his staff had tried to approach the hackers posing as prospective customers. “The hackers sent our team an HDFC bank account bearing number 50100598264112 asking for 50 per cent advance payment. The account has been opened in an HDFC bank branch at Agra Cantonment in Uttar Pradesh.”
Sources said with the number of complaints rising, Darjeeling police on Saturday held a meeting with hoteliers on the dos and don’ts to stop this menace.
Dr Santosh Nimbalkar, the Darjeeling superintendent of police, said the investigators were trying to solve as many cases as possible.
“We are trying to solve as many cases as possible. However, hotels also need to follow certain procedures to complete the process,” said Nimbalkar.
The hoteliers said they were facing problems in solving the issue. “When we contact Google, they tell us to flag the compromised photograph following which it is removed. However, the hackers again post the same photographs. It is becoming a cat-and-mouse game,” said Thapa.
The hackers also sent the QR code of their bank account for easy transfer, said a source.
The hoteliers are worried that they might face huge problems once the tourist rush begins.
“If people come to us saying that they have paid an advance for a confirmed booking, what can we do? We advise customers to book rooms only through our hotel website and try to contact our genuine numbers,” said a hotelier.
Darjeeling witnesses the tourist rush after board examinations are over.