Delhi-based fashion designer Samita Rai (name changed) found her dream man on a matrimony website. Her prospective life partner was a good-looking Mumbai-based IT executive with a fat paycheque. After four months of telephonic conversations and promises to marry soon, Samita's husband-to-be informed her that he had to travel to Australia for office work and that he would return in a couple of days. But it was almost a fortnight when he finally called her — in distress. He told her that he had been robbed in Australia and was in desperate need for money to return home. A gullible Samita offered to pay Rs 4 lakh for the safe return of her prospective husband and transferred the money to a bank account. She never heard from him after that.
Eventually, Samita approached private detective Taralika Lahiri and asked her to investigate the case.
"When we started digging we realised that the photograph on the man's matrimonial profile was of a small-time model from North India. The bank account was of a branch in Orissa and was closed down after the withdrawal of the cash," said Lahiri.
She said that the man used to call up Samita using internet telephony such as Skype, which flashes international numbers during calls.
Samita's is not an isolated case. Many people are getting duped by fraudsters on online matrimony sites, and Lahiri is one of a growing number of private detectives who specialise in "matrimonial investigations".
Naman Jain, managing director of the private investigating agency Sleuths India, said, "Today when marriages are mostly arranged via matrimonial websites and newspaper-ads, one can never be sure of the background of the person. Hence, we help in making detailed investigations so that our clients do not land up with the wrong person."
Earlier, families would know each other, either directly or through close friends or relatives, before entering into matrimonial alliances. This is not the case now. Most people are now turning to the internet to find life partners and, therefore, have to deal with a knowledge shortfall.
This is where the private eye steps in.
"We provide answers to vital questions such as, does this young woman/man have a 'good' reputation? Does this young man have a drinking problem? Worse still, is the woman/man in another marriage?" said Jain, adding that even though it is possible to get to know about the families, it is next to impossible to know about the character of the individual, which "even the family members might not know".
Rahul Rai Gupta of Matrimony Services attributed this trend to the fact that young Indian women are entering the workplace for the first time and contact between the sexes this way is increasing chances of extramarital affairs, especially in call centres where men and women work throughout the night.
"When a spouse leaves home in the evening, they know they will not be back until morning. Such knowledge can encourage misbehaviour," said Gupta.
Lahiri said that this lifestyle shift has led to an increase in the number of extramarital affairs involving women: "We have seen women parking their car at one place, getting out and then getting into somebody else's car."
Gupta said the business is booming. "We get over 200-300 requests per month."
A Google search on private detectives in India returns more than 800,000 results — most of them, says Gupta, are fly-by-night operators, where the proprietor often doubles up as the detective, accountant as well as office boy.
He also warned that the growing demand for private detectives has spawned many small-time investigation outfits in recent years.
"As there is no legal body of private detectives in the country, several individuals who worked with detectives have opened shop. Customers should only go to private agents who are APDI (Association of Private Detectives & Investigators) certified."