Vikash Sharma

It seems that the tourism sector is now an easy target for cybercriminals. Scores of people are now being duped by several fake hotel websites in the name of bookings. Such fraud has now become a cause of concern for law enforcement agencies and genuine hotels owners as cyber fraudsters are mainly targeting people seeking hotels in Puri and Bhubaneswar.

The criminals create fake websites in the name of genuine hotels including several five-star hotels and loot money from tourists on the pretext of room bookings. If anyone searches for room availability on the internet, there is every possibility that one might come across such fake websites.

Through such fake websites, fraudsters are minting money as the amount is directly credited into their accounts once any tourist completes the transaction. The scamsters have created fake websites in the name of a reputed hotel Pulin and HotelsPuri.Net and other hotels as well.

“A guest from Bangalore had booked a hotel and learned that he has been a victim of fraud. In Puri, there is a big scam. We had discussed with senior officials of the Crime Branch and they have assured to help us,” said Somnath Banerjee, owner of Hotel Pulin.

After the matter came to light, the concerned hotel owners lodged a police complaint after several customers got duped through such fake websites.

“It has been found that a reputed hotel reported 25 to 26 cases in which customers have paid around Rs 25 to Rs 26 lakh to the cyber fraudsters. In the case of another hotel, the customers have been duped to the tune of Rs 5 to Rs 6 lakh,” informed JK Mohanty, president of the Hotels And Restaurant Association (HARO).

As a lot of people are booking hotels online, many are not aware of how to check the authenticity of such websites. According to experts, people should always opt for tour aggregators instead of doing bookings online. One should also verify the website as well as the concerned bank account and IFSC code whether it is from the concerned area/location or not.

“One should also not trust Truecaller. One should verify the website and its profile. In a fake website, several data are usually missing. One also should ensure the IFSC code should be of the same area where the hotel is located,” said cyber expert Prashant Sahu.

As cybercriminals are creating fake websites of hotels to cheat innocent travellers, the Odisha Crime Branch held a meeting with the office bearers of the hotel owners. The objective of the meeting was to work out a joint strategy against the scammers.

The Crime Branch has issued a helpline number, 1903 for the tourists to complaint of the fraud cases. Apart from that a 24-hour helpline number (63709-67100) has also been issued by the cyber cell of Puri.

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