Harshita had planned to fly to Varanasi for Diwali. But as is usual during the festival season, hotels were either all booked up or not within a suitable range. That is until she came across the ‘MyTravaly’ website. From the looks of it, the website resembled other travel companies. There were reviews from customers, an assortment of hotels to pick from and community posts that talked about traveller’s journeys.
In a rush to have something ahead of time, Harshita went ahead with a package deal of hotels worth Rs. 23,000. The process was smooth and there seemed to be no scope for complaint until a day passed and Harshita had still not received a confirmation for either purchase.
“After payment, the message said they were working on confirming the booking. So, I thought nothing of it and waited for a few hours,” said Harshita. However, a few hours later, Harshita called the website helpline. “They said they were speaking to the hotel,” she added. Harshita waited some more. Suspicious of the delay, she decided to call back the next day. This time the agent said the hotel had cancelled the reservation due to being fully booked. “MyTravaly was ready to find me another hotel, but the one they confirmed looked substandard and filthy,” she recalled.
Harshita asked for a refund. But to this day, the money has not been returned. “One day I made a hundred calls to them. They all went unanswered.” She is not the only one.
MyTravaly, founded by Hamlet R, is a travel agent website that offers big discounts on travel, making the options look lucrative. However, on researching their profiles online, one can find several reviews on Google of people who say they were duped by the site and did not recover their money. Decode spoke to others who have fallen prey to the website and not only lost thousands but also received threats of police action from the booking agents.
Customers allege scam through hotel reservations
Kaushik made a booking on MyTravaly on September 30 for the same day and paid approximately Rs 3300. Once he reached the hotel, he was shocked to hear that the hotel recognised no agent by the name of MyTravaly and refused to validate his reservation. While at the hotel, the MyTravaly agent called Kaushik claiming that the hotel had refused to accept the booking. “Instantly they knew their scam was caught, so they promised to refund the amount within 2-3 working days. It’s been over a month now, and I still haven’t recovered the 3300/-,” Kaushik continued.
After 7 days of not returning Kaushik’s calls, when he tried to reach out to their Instagram (@mytravaly), he was instantly blocked. Soon after, the customer service numbers were also unreachable. MyTravaly’s Instagram has over 9000 followers. Their Facebook account is flooded with comments where people repeat the same issues of being promised a refund and then being unable to reach them after a day.
Similarly, Mita had also been searching for Pune hotels to no avail. “MyTravaly seemed to find good hotels at a great price, so I went ahead with them,” Mita said. But quite like Harshita and Kaushik, Mita’s reservation was also not confirmed and the agent claimed it was the hotel who refused to accept the booking. Once again MyTravaly found a second hotel for Mita which was subpar and Mita’s refund request was met with no success.
The modus operandi of the agent is to scam people of smaller amounts and once the money is received, to suggest a refund and then not accept phone calls. According to Harshita, because the amounts are usually quite small, people tend to give up chasing the scammers. “This gives them added impunity to run the scam with no consequence,” she added.
MyTravaly agents issue threats against bad reviews
Another common thread between all victims is that for every bad review against the website online, MyTravaly agents have threatened police action.
When Harshita found poor reviews on Google, she decided to tweet against MyTravaly and filed a cyber police complaint. “When I posted on Twitter, they sent me an email saying I’m defaming them,” she said. They ordered Harshita to take the post down or else they would take legal action against her. Not budging, Harshita filed another complaint. “The agents don’t fear the law. Even after complaints, they only promised to refund the partial amount.”
For Kaushik, after the mental harassment continued for a month, he decided to write a Google review on November 2. “Two days later, they called me threatening that they would only refund the money if the post is taken down.” Otherwise, he would have to face legal action, MyTravaly claimed. According to Kaushik, the agents tried ringing him a few more times with the same threats and gave up in the end.
Aditya, another victim had also tweeted with MyTravaly’s hashtag, to which the MyTravaly had responded with the same threat of defamation action. Not willing to face any more damage, Aditya had taken the post down. “I was not willing to be embarrassed over a small amount of 5000/- so I gave up on chasing them,” he added.
Complaints against MyTravaly not heeded
According to Harshita, there is a shame factor in complaining. “At least four people I’m speaking to didn’t get their refund. But due to the fear of shame, they are not ready to complain,” she explained. However, Harshita has taken it upon herself to bring the police’s attention to these repeat offenders.
After her cyber cell complaint, Harshita tried the ‘1930’ complaint helpline number of the National Cybercrime Reporting Portal (NCRP). “But their operators are always busy.” MyTravaly’s founder is tagged in every tweet, but other than threats to take bad reviews down, there is no action from their side.
“The money is not important. It’s the harassment that I have had to endure and the ease with which these people scam users, that needs to be stopped,” Harshita
We reached out to MyTravaly for comments but have not received any response. We also reached out to their Social Media Manager on LinkedIn who agreed to speak until we mentioned having received complaints. Founder, Hamlet R could also not be reached out to. We will update the story as and when we hear back from the MyTravaly team.