On January 8th, a voice note on WhatsApp groups of civic organisations was making rounds in the areas of Borivali and Kandivali. Recorded by an unidentified woman, she claimed that her mother, who lives alone, was duped out of money by a man posing as a Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) agent. On 6th January, he arrived at her home on the pretext of checking the gas meter. On inspection, he allegedly found gas leakages and warned her of a possible fire. She was told that fixing the leakages would cost her Rs 1850 per valve, and in total, she was charged Rs 11,100 for 6 valves, which she paid to avert a dangerous, life-threatening situation.
However, the rate card behind the MGL ‘bill’ displayed the price of fixing one as Rs 550, so six valves would have cost her Rs 3300. It became clear that the amount presented to her was revised on the spot. This incident eventually came to the notice of her daughter, the woman behind the voice note, who went to the building secretary. CCTV footage from that day displayed a man making rounds by the building to check for a watchman. His paths suggested a familiarity with the building, from being able to hide from security to knowing the home of a senior citizen.
Two days later, the woman lodged a police complaint in the local police station.
Since 2016, cases of men entering homes posing as Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) employees were reported across Mumbai. In 2020, a man was arrested for the same in Navi Mumbai.
In January 2022 alone, other, similar cases were reported in Kandivali and Borivali. The modus operandi of the men was to present themselves as MGL employees to falsely charge customers for changing gas valves with leaks. Huge amounts were requested from customers, on fake MGL bills.
Other cases were reported in Kandivali as well, where people were charged anywhere between Rs 300 and Rs 1000.
Although the voice note in question could not be traced back to its original source, more people have come forward in Kandivali. “There is a group of people who visit people’s houses posing as gas meter readers. After doing that they tell residents that they have been entrusted with the work of checking gas leakage inside the kitchen. They will light a match stick to show some gas leakage, a trick to convince the flat owner about the leakage.” a message circulated in Anita 11 Cooperative housing society in Kandivali read.
The problem with individual contractors
Babulal S. Parmar is an MGL agent who installs new connections in houses and is officially hired by the company. However, individual agents also exist, like Mangilal Parmar, an individual contractor who signs contracts with SP gas agency and other equivalents worth Rs 30,000 to 40,000 per month, for a set amount of customers in a particular area. A portion of the amount signed for is taken by the company, and individual contractors have to meet the monthly target. Prices vary according to the area. “Sometimes the high cost of contracts leads to such malpractices. To make quick cash, these individual contractors resort to these ways of making money,” said Mangilal.
Mangilal has quit signing contracts from other gas agencies, and now only works with contacts he has made over the years, with clients that trust him. “I don’t do contract work anymore as these posers also affect my reputation amongst my clients,” he said.
“The MGL looks after pipe gas installations, meter readings and gas leakages alone, and does not handle any sort of repair work. Anyone posing as an MGL agent who does repair work is actually an individual contractor from a different gas agency,” he added.
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How MGL responded
Despite filing a complaint with MGL, the man behind the duping incident referred to in the voice note was never found. This wasn’t the first complaint made directly to MGL.
On December 13 2021, Ashwin Joshi, a resident, filed a complaint on the MGL website about a person entering his home as a gas agent. “Misleading and fraudulent Mahanagar technician arrived and misled us by telling us the pipe would burst if we did not change the emergency wall.” his complaint on the website read.
While the men were never found, MGL did start an awareness campaign to alert customers and facilitate their protection. Frequent complaints forced them to develop an app. The app would enforce ID verification for anyone visiting customer’s homes as an MGL employee by enabling QR code scanning of the employee’s identity card.
MGL appealed to its customers through print, social media, PNG bill inserts, its walk-in centres and website to be alert against fraudulent agencies/individuals who pose as authorised agents of MGL. They have now put in place several precautionary measures to protect and safeguard customers from being defrauded.
- All the customer support staff engaged through contractors of MGL have identity cards with hologram and barcode. Customers can check the same along with the expiry date mentioned on their ID card.
- Against customer’s service requests an SMS link is sent to the customer’s registered mobile number, to gain information about the customer support staff
- In case of a meter reader’s visit, an advanced SMS alert is sent from MGL on the customer’s registered mobile number informing them about the metre reader’s visit to their premises.
- The details of the meter reader can be checked on ‘MGL Connect’ mobile app or on the SMS alert by using the three-digit code received in the alert.
- Additionally, the authenticity of the meter reader can also be ascertained by checking the uniform which is a sky blue shirt with MGL logo and name of metre reading agency.
- It may also be noted that meter readers are authorised for taking meter reading only.
- In addition, MGL also alerts its customers that it does not sell any accessories nor has any subsidiaries for gas stove maintenance.
- For after sales service, authorised vendors’ list is available on MGL’s website or customers can call on customer care numbers.
- For verification of customer support staff, meter reader, and after sales service provider, customers can call on the dedicated number 022 24045784.
- In case of any fraudulent activity, customers may report it to the local police station at the earliest.
(information provided by Corporate Communications representative)
According to their official statement on this issue, sent by a corporate communications representative, MGL’s focus is to ensure that more concerted efforts are being taken to curb any fraudulent activities towards its customers. Ultimately, joint citizen action forced the company to go above and beyond for the protection of customers.