Curtailing Online Fraud: Delhi High Court Issues Directions Against Fake Hotel Booking Websites

Curtailing Online Fraud: Delhi High Court Issues Directions Against Fake Hotel Booking WebsitesA significant crackdown was initiated through court orders against fraudulent and illegal activities by people involving fake hotel booking websites. In this case, Defendant No. 1 were the unknown persons who were impleaded in the suit as John Doe(s), and the said defendant contacted unwary customers through their fake and infringing websites.

The fraud perpetuated by Defendant No. 1 is that they displayed the plaintiff’s registered trademark, GINGER, on their websites and used genuine photographs of the plaintiff’s hotels. Using these fraudulent websites, Defendant No.1 induced customers to book rooms by contacting them at phone numbers given on their websites. They offered to book hotel rooms under the guise that they were booking the reservations on the plaintiff’s official website. Once the customers were engaged, the defendant manipulated the customers into making payments for ‘reservation charges’ on certain UPI IDs or by asking customers to divulge sensitive banking details, including OTPs and card information. These deceitful operations and infringing activities by Defendant No.1 resulted in substantial financial losses for many consumers as well as to the plaintiff.

The fraudulent conduct of the Defendant No. 1 went beyond just financial fraud. They also infringed upon the trademarks and copyrights belonging to the plaintiff. By falsely associating themselves with the plaintiff’s brand GINGER, the defendant engaged in “passing off” as well, misleading the public and unfairly gaining from the plaintiff’s established goodwill.

Considering the evidence presented by the plaintiff, the Court intervened to address these gross and blatant violations. Recognising the prima facie case presented by the plaintiff, the Court issued an injunction order prohibiting Defendant No. 1 from using the registered trademark of the plaintiff as well as from using copyrighted photographs of Plaintiff’s GINGER Hotel properties.

The Court also directed the domain name Registrars responsible for the infringing websites to suspend the domains and provide complete details about the registrants, including their identities, contact information, and particulars of the payment. Such information sought by the Court, was very crucial in knocking down the fraudulent network of the Defendant No.1 and also those responsible for such illegal actions.

The Court order also extended to several Banks, who were directed by the Court to suspend operations in connection with the fraudulent UPI IDs used by Defendant No. 1. In addition, the National Payment Corporation of India was also directed to suspend the UPI IDs used by the Defendant No. 1 and to submit detailed information, including KYC documents, associated with those accounts. These steps were crucial in cutting off the financial network that aided the fraudulent transactions.

This case and such legal action serve as a reminder of new tactics that are employed by cyber criminals to exploit the online marketplace. The case also stresses the importance of robust legal frameworks and proactive measures by the Court to combat digital fraud effectively. It also highlights the role of consumer awareness in identifying and avoiding potential scams. It is also very important for consumers to exercise caution when making online payments, especially through unfamiliar platforms and websites.

Authors: Manisha Singh and Gautam Kumar

First Published by: Lexology here