Queer matchmaking service in India called out as a ‘scam’

The Arranged Gay Marriage Bureau, a matchmaking site in India that purports to serve the LGBTQ community, faces tough questions after a series of reports have accused it of scamming customers.

Questions were raised starting with a report by Vice last month. Titled The Arranged Gay Marriage Scam, the investigative site created a 20-minute documentary following a pair of Gay Marriage Bureau users over the course of 11 months. During that time, each only received a handful of potential matches.

23-year-old Urvi Shah founded the Arranged Gay Marriage Bureau in 2015 and still serves as its CEO. For $500 per year, customers can fill out an online dating profile, and the service will find potential dating matches. Users are supposed to receive at least one potential match per week. Testimonials on the site claim that it has successfully paired dozens of couples for life.

Yet both the Vice report, and a new investigation by NBC News had trouble finding customers that had actually been successfully matched by the service. Customers interviewed by NBC claimed they seldom received a profile per week as promised, instead getting 15-20 matches per year…or less. Angry customers confronted Shah, who promised them refunds. Those never materialized.

Related: What is it like to be a bisexual man living in India?

“Urvi cited personal problems, which seemed like excuses, when I wrote her a stern email in January after she had stopped responding to my calls and emails completely,” an anonymous 27-year-old man who said he had stopped receiving profiles for several months told NBC. “Post that, she sent me three profiles, but only to appease me, as none of them matched my requirements.”

NBC managed to locate a few marginally satisfied customers, though each also expressed skepticism about the validity of the service. One man, who met five potential partners and actually enjoyed a long-term relationship with one, noted that he had to pay double the usual fees to “expedite the service.” Another man who subscribed to the service for two years met only two potential matches.

Both Vice and NBC also uncovered evidence of Shah misrepresenting the business, including inflating numbers of customers, numbers of successful matches, and taking credit for matches not arranged by the service on social media.

LGBTQ people in India still face a good deal of societal stigma. That stigma could prevent unsatisfied or scammed customers from reporting the Arranged Gay Marriage Bureau to authorities.

“It saddens us to see someone take advantage of a vulnerable community, the same community that is giving them business,” Balachandran Ramiah, a member of the activist group Gay Bombay, told NBC.

Urvi Shah initially responded to inquiries by Vice and NBC before cutting off communication. In the Vice documentary she assured users that “the bureau is 100 percent legitimate and real.”