Fake PAN Card websites pose national level threat: Bombay HC directs to take down Scam Websites in Copyright Suit by UTIITSL

Bombay HC takes swift ex-parte action against fraudulent fake PAN Card websites in UTIITSL Case.
PAN Card - Bombay High Court - UTIITSL - TAXSCAN

The Bombay High Court has directed the Registrar of Domains to take down scam websites offering fake Permanent Account Number (PAN) Cards in a copyright infringement case by UTI Infrastructure Technology And Services Limited (UTIITSL).

The High Court has issued an ex-parte interim injunction against both identified and unidentified entities reportedly involved in the operation of fraudulent websites falsely claiming to represent UTI Infrastructure Technology and Services.

The order is of a peculiar nature, initiating action against potential unknown websites also, usually called a John Doe Order or  an Ashok Kumar Order. India had started using this unique concept of John Doe orders (also famously known as Ashok Kumar orders) to punish a class of unknown infringers. The name “John Doe” is used to identify unknown infringers, who have allegedly committed some wrong, but whose identity is unknown to the plaintiff.

Defendant No. 14 is John Doe i.e., unknown defendant and have been arrayed, since it is impossible to identify such defendants, the Bench remarked.

According to the plaint, these unauthorized service providers such as the defendants, must be restrained and stopped from misrepresenting itself of being agents authorized by the plaintiff.

The ramifications of the continual infringement of the Plaintiff’s copyright in the Label and the passing off of the Plaintiff’s marks by the defendants are far reaching and its repercussions will ripple through the foundation of the economy of India.

It was the case of the plaintiff that the defendant nos.1 to 4 are purporting to provide almost identical services as the Plaintiff and are unauthorizedly using it’s marks and the Label on their websites. In fact, Defendant Nos. 1 to 4 have resorted to misrepresent to the public of being authorized to provide services on behalf of the Plaintiff and under the garb, they have unauthorizedly and fraudulently collected personal and confidential data from the public and issued fake PAN cards.

It was the specific case of the plaintiff that there are various unscrupulous persons or entities who have been engaged in the fraudulent acts, and it is not possible to monitor the activities of such entities, as different domain names are floated from time to time in an attempt to pass themselves off as the plaintiff, to perpetuate the fraud and therefore, urgent ad-interim orders are sought by the Interim Application.

The Bombay High Court bench observed that “it cannot be in dispute that the PAN system is of

paramount importance on a national scale due to its multifaceted impact on governance, taxation, and financial integrity, and it can be said to be the cornerstone of a robust financial economic system. PAN related services are pivotal in fostering fiscal discipline and ensuring a transparent and accountable economic framework, as apart from being a unique identifier for individuals and entities, it also aims at streamlining the tax recovery and payment process.”

“Government of India has made it mandatory for PAN card holders to link the same to Aadhar Card, which is an acceptable proof of identification in India, and therefore, any potential misuse of the license/authorisation to issue PAN cards, would be highly detrimental not only to the interest of the plaintiff, but also to the national interest”, the bench of Justice Bharati Dangre added.

The Bombay High Court reportedly issued an ex-parte interim injunction after being convinced that the defendants’ conduct, involving illegal acts, infringed upon the plaintiff’s statutory rights under Common Law.

The court found that both identified and unidentified entities engaged in fraudulent activities by imitating the plaintiff and its marks, leading to copyright infringement and passing off marks.

The court reportedly directed specific defendants to remove unauthorized domains and websites. Additionally, it reportedly instructed the police and Cyber Crime Departments to provide necessary assistance in executing the interim order.

Further consideration of the matter is posted on 20/2/2024, with the ex-parte ad-interim relief reportedly set to continue until then.

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