How local search engine Just Dial is becoming haven for fraudsters

Updated: 17 December, 2018 15:48 IST | Samiullah Khan and Diwakar Sharma | Mumbai

From packers and movers who run away with all of the customer's stuff, to loan scamsters and online fraudsters, India's biggest local services search app is teeming with people looking to rip you off; we even managed to register ourselves as legitima

Representational Image
Representational Image

Touted as India's number 1 local search engine, Just Dial is slowly becoming a haven for fraudsters looking to make a quick buck by cheating those who use the website. The search engine - which claims to help users find relevant providers of products and services - is seemingly not being thorough when it comes to verifying the authenticity of the companies it lists, as mid-day found out during a test drive, following an increasing number of police complaints.

mid-day launched the drive after observing several incidents of crimes related to Just Dial.

Complaints across Mumbai
Various victims have registered complaints at police stations across Mumbai, alleging they were duped by conmen with whom they connected with after searching for the required services on Just Dial.

As part of the test drive, mid-day reporters registered on the website on December 4 under two names. One is a reputed finance company, while the other is a well-known packers and movers company. Initially, they said they cannot register the names given by mid-day. But, after being told that we won't go through with the transaction if we weren't listed under the names we'd asked for, they agreed to go ahead with the listing without any changes.

The fake listings created by mid-day on Just Dial
The fake listings created by mid-day on Just Dial

No detailed checks
The enrolment was for a year. Initially, they were demanding Rs 30,000 for the registrations, but after a lot of bargaining, they reduced the charge by 50 per cent. The companies were registered for Rs 7,500 each, including GST.

When it came to documents, at first, the company only asked for the proprietor's PAN and Aadhar card details, without bothering to cross-check whether the companies being registered were legitimate. However, a Just Dial representative made a verification call to the mid-day reporter on December 14, where his name, e-mail ID, contact numbers and the company's name and address were asked for.

All of this information was taken at face value (In response to mid-day's questionnaire, Just Dial said free listings could be created by anyone, but mid-day's listings were sponsored; even then, no cross-verification was done). mid-day wasn't asked for the registration number of the company or any sort of documents related to it.

It has been almost a fortnight since the fake listings went live, and mid-day has been getting calls ever since - for the finance company as well as the packers and movers.

How local search engine Just Dial is becoming haven for fraudsters

Raise an alarm?
mid-day chose the names of the finance and packers and movers' companies hoping that Just Dial officials would raise an alarm about them, since there was a recent FIR against a conman who'd cheated several people by posing as the finance company on Just Dial. The movers and packers company is another notorious name on the site, as people have been cheated by fraudsters claiming to be from there. mid-day reached out to Just Dial regarding the test-drive. (see box: The other side)

When conmen came calling Packers and (non) movers
Last year, Charkop resident Chandni Chheda, 30, was moving to Kutch. She called Just Dial to ask for contact details of movers and packers, and soon received a call from Gopal Krishna Packers on April 30, 2017. Soon after, the company's staffers came and packed all her possessions and gave her a receipt under the name of Sahara Packers. The company had promised to deliver the belongings in Kutch within three days, but the goods never arrived. When Chheda contacted the company, their phones were switched off. She approached the Charkop police station and registered a complaint. Cops traced the accused and recovered Chheda's belongings from Naigaon.
Chheda said, "In this case, Just Dial is as guilty as the packers and movers who have registered fictitious companies for the sake of a few pennies."

Sharif Hussain

Draining finances
In November, Malvani resident Sharif Hussain was cheated of Rs 40,000 while seeking a loan of R5 lakh, after he called a popular finance company upon getting their contact from Just Dial. After he filed a complaint, the cops laid a trap and caught one of the accused. Hussain said, "But this gang is still active and people are being cheated. Cops are not taking the matter seriously anymore."

The other side
How many companies and individuals are registered on JD?
Just Dial has a database of 23.8 million listings as on 30 Sep 2018

What is the process and cost of registration for an individual/company?
There are two types of listings: free listings and sponsored listings. Any business can list itself for free on Just Dial. The registration/ listing for any individual/company is subject to the terms of services as published on our website and shared at the time to sponsored listings. This requirement is in consonance with IT Act 2000 as amended and intermediaries guidelines. Among other process, we have also availed services for verification purposes as an abundant caution.

Is there a process in place to authenticate or verify the documents submitted for registration on JD? If yes, please explain.
Yes. The details are given in the second point.

Do you have the number of FIRs lodged against people for registering themselves with false credentials on Just Dial to cheat people?
This information is not available with us since Just Dial is just an intermediary, an information platform for local search. We deactivate any non-genuine listings and ensure that information provided on the portal is accurate. The company has specialized in local search over the last 22 years.

Has JD has compensated anyone for the frauds committed by people registering on it with false credentials?
Just Dial is just a platform to connect users (buyers) with listings (sellers). We do our best to ensure users' interests are adequately protected.

mid-day reporters registered on JD without submitting a single document about their professional credentials.

As mentioned in the second point, free listings can be created by any business owner. Any non-genuine listings, even if created, get deactivated or corrected through various checks and balances that we have to ensure accuracy of data on Just Dial. While we are furnishing above requested details, you are requested to bring to our notice any concerns or user complaints that you may have received. We shall do our best to address those concerns, we place unparalleled importance in ensuring that our users get genuine information.

mid-day reached out to the company with more questions, but they had not responded till the time of going to press.

'Do a good background check'
Cyber lawyer Puneet Bhasin said, "Users share their details to contact one particular vendor online. But when many vendors start contacting them, it is a breach of privacy and an offence on the part of the company, when a user has not expressly consented to widespread sharing of his data. Just Dial will have to soon change its marketing strategy and stop sharing user data with vendors not authorized by the user in keeping with the Privacy Bill, which will be soon enacted. Even under the current Information Technology Act, this methodology of business is questionable. However, as an intermediary, Just Dial is not liable for frauds committed by vendors listed on its portal, except when it's a verified vendor and Just Dial is taking responsibility. When seeking services of vendors through any portal like Just Dial, it is important to vet the credentials of the vendors before engaging them, and doing a good background check. There are many frauds on online portals and a buyer must beware."

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First Published: 17 December, 2018 07:36 IST

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