People, cops helpless as cybercrime goes out of control

Digital internet technology

Former Chief Justice of India R M Lodha received an email from his friend Justice B P Singh on April 19 seeking immediate monetary help of Rs 1 lakh for the treatment of his cousin. The email said Singh was unavailable over the phone and that was why he was emailing for help. This was not the first time they were emailing each other and an unsuspecting Justice Lodha immediately transferred the money in two transactions at the account number given in the email. Lodha had the shock of his life when he later received a mail from Singh that his email was hacked on April 18-19. By then, Justice Lodha was cheated of Rs 1 lakh by a cybercriminal.

In another incident that happened four years ago, a non-journalist in a media house in New Delhi received an email which mentioned that he had won USD one lakh in British online lottery draw. He was to deposit some money as a transaction fee for realising the lottery. First, he deposited Rs 15,000 and then came the demand for another Rs 15,000 for clearing the customs. He did not still smell the scam and paid that too. He was asked to wait. And his wait continues till now for the lottery money he won! He couldn’t tell his family that he has duped and out of shame, he has not approached the police too.

ALSO READ: In Karnataka, cybercrimes rise 5 times in 4 years

Phishing, data theft, identity theft, online lottery, cyber attacks, job frauds, banking frauds, cyberbullying, online blackmailing, morphing, revenge porn, cyber hacking, child pornography, cyber grooming, cyberstalking, data diddling, software piracy, online radicalisation — the dark web of cybercrimes is spreading across the world and India is one of the hotspots of this digital crime .

The dark web

With increasing mobile coverage and cheaper data, more and more Indians now access the internet even while on the move. This has exposed unsuspecting ones to fall prey to online fraudsters. Many become victims of sexual exploitation after being made to share personal details while some others use the new media like WhatsApp to spread fake news to create trouble for political and other gains. There have been several lynching incidents in the country in the past couple of years after fake messages about child lifting and cow slaughter were spread through social media.

In spite of an alarming rise in cybercrime in the country, the most recent Government statistics available on this is from 2016. Cybercrimes touched 12,317 cases in 2016 which was an increase from 9,622 reported in 2014. The National Crimes Record Bureau is yet to release the statistics for 2017 and 2018.

The data available is just a tip of the iceberg and the numbers might be much more, says a senior government official. “Many even do not report loss of money or honour out of shame. Many cannot even tell their families that they have lost money in online frauds,” the official told DH.

Officials say the problem is that common people are not aware of the risks involved while dealing with the internet. Many are unaware, they say, and exercise no caution while using the net. They click unwanted links, unknowingly give the cyber fraudster their personal details and get cheated.

One of the oft-repeated cases is that of fraud online lotteries where gullible people are lured into depositing money for getting the prize amount. The modus operandi here is simple, an email lands in your inbox saying you have won a lottery and to process it, some amount has to be deposited. Once somebody deposits money, the fraudster disappears from the scene. In some cases, jobs are offered and without cross-checking, people pay only to realise later that they have just lost the money.

With cheaper mobile phones and data, officials say, minors are also now vulnerable with bullies and groomers preying in the cyberspace. Minors are prompted to share personal and intimate photos and are later blackmailed. It is not just the children, even some youth, especially women, are tricked into it and face harassment, a senior Delhi Police official told DH.

Devika Prasad, coordinator (Police Reforms) in Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative highlights that several crimes against women have now cyber dimensions and there is an urgent need to address these. “Cybercrime investigators should have a fixed tenure and should be selected through a strict criteria,” she told DH.

The cyberspace has invaded the lives so much that even the use of some amount of cyberspace is incidental for the commission of crimes and it covers practically all crimes, a recent government document has said.

Rajnath Singh, the then Home Minister, said in March 2018 that cybercrime has become an “industry” as he warned that many cyber crimes-related tools are being offered as services. Even a person with limited expertise on computer and limited investments can afford and access such services easily, he had said. That is the trouble now the law enforcement agencies in the country face. Added to it is the low-level expertise of police personnel dealing with such cases.

Low awareness

How prepared are our investigators in dealing with cyber crimes? “Many of our policemen are still not aware of how cybercriminals work. They don’t even know the basics. Only recently a media report quoted an inspector of Delhi Police saying he had not heard about ‘Tik Tok’ till a murder had some connection with the social media app. This is the situation,” a senior Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) official said.

Same is the case with the investigation and prosecution. As of December 2016, investigations in 14,973 cybercrime were incomplete. In courts, 9,381 cases were pending while it could dispose of only 783 cases. Only in 201, there was conviction while in 542 cases, the accused were acquitted. These statistics, the MHA official said, shows that the investigations are not speedy and indicate that there is a lack of trained investigators.

And, this has prompted the MHA to chalk out an elaborate programme to train 37,500 policemen and judicial officers over a period of two years. Of this, 17,000 personnel, including 2,000 women personnel, will be of lower ranks.

Also, it is now looking to develop an online curriculum to coach police personnel under simulated environments where they will have to excavate digital evidence as in real crimes. This comes as part of a realisation that police personnel are still unaware of how technology impacts crime, what is digital evidence and how to look for it.

“But this is not to say that police are not addressing it. There is an increasing awareness among police forces. Police stations are being set up in some states to specifically cater to cybercrimes. There are cybercells operating. But the challenges are increasing as the cyberspace is expanding as well as cybercriminals,” the official says. 

A WhatsApp group in Kerala to check online financial frauds

Arjun Raghunath

A social media-based initiative of Kerala Police has proved to be effective in curbing online financial frauds to a large extent.

In Kerala, on an average, about 300 cybercrimes are being reported every year. A major chunk of the cybercrimes being reported these days are social media abuse and online cheating. Despite repeated advisories by the police and the banks, public, including well-educated people, have become  victims of online fraud, police sources told DH.

It was at such a juncture that the Kerala Police Cyberdome initiated a WhatsApp-based initiative in 2017 to crack online financial fraud. Impressed over its effectiveness, the Reserve Bank of India and many other states are also promoting and replicating the model, Additional Director General of Police Manoj Abraham, who is in charge of the Cyberdome, told DH. The WhatsApp group with cyber police officers, nodal officers of banks, payment gateway operators, mobile wallet firms and e-commerce websites as members is the backbone of the initiative titled Stop Banking Fraud.

As soon as the police or banks receive any complaint of online frauds, the information is shared on the social media platform and the officials of the banks or payment gateways concerned would immediately hold the transaction and verify it. If it is found to be a fraud transaction, it would be cancelled.

According to Abraham, even if a customer receives a message on his mobile phone regarding any unauthorised debits from his bank account, the actual transaction may take some more time to be completed. Hence if the customers give complaints swiftly, there is a high possibility of blocking the transaction immediately through the Stop Banking Fraud WhatsApp group, which is live 24 X 7.

Since the group was created, fraud transactions of around Rs 30 lakh were blocked per year, said Abraham.

According to the government data, as of now, about 1,500 cybercrimes are under various stages of investigation and trial in Kerala. A major hurdle being faced in the investigation of cybercrimes was the delay in getting information from the intermediary agency like the server in which the websites are hosted and most of which are located abroad. Similarly, in many cases, the accused would be located abroad and hence more time would be required.

Under the hoodie: young and organised criminals

Rakesh Dixit

On June 12, Madhya Pradesh cybercrime cell busted a racket that duped over 2.5 lakh US citizens of millions of dollars in the last one year after stealing their data. This is the biggest cyber crime unearthed in MP.

An investigation into the sensational cyber blackmailing has revealed a large network of youths spread across Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi in India and many states in the USA. The US federal agency FBI has also been involved in the probe.

The Indore unit of Madhya Pradesh police’s Cyber Cell, which unearthed the online scam, arrested 78 persons including 19 women. These youths would call gullible US citizens using stolen data and threaten to implicate them in cases of drug trafficking, tax evasion and other crimes. The girls were trained to adopt an American accent to hoodwink their targeted victims.   

Among those caught, a majority were tele callers. Cops recovered 60 computers, 70 cellphones, server and other gadgets from their possession. They had obtained the social security number of 10 lakh US citizens, their mobile numbers and other confidential details.

Cybercrime takes a political turn in Telugu states

JBS Umanadh

Cybercrime is on the rise in Hyderabad with around 410 cases registered in 2018. While these cases were mainly pertaining to social media, currently cybercrime has taken a political turn in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

The election season that began in last December with early Assembly elections in Telangana has witnessed several cases involving political parties and leaders. The first such case was that of data theft by a Hyderabad based IT company, IT Grids. An FIR was registered against the company based on a complaint made by a YSR Congress functionary that the IT firm which had designed an app for the Telugu Desam Party was involved in the theft of vital data of the voters of both states.

In the run-up to the elections in Andhra Pradesh, the state intelligence chief AB Venkateswara Rao was shunted out following complaints that the officer is organising a group of cybercriminals on the terrace of the Andhra Pradesh Intelligence office to target YSR Congress Party. 

Separate dept in TN to handle cybercrime cases

E T B Sivapriyan 

Tamil Nadu plans to constitute an independent agency within the police department to exclusively cater to handling cybercrime cases. The state which is increasingly prone to incidents of cheating and fraud on the cyberspace has decided to augment its infrastructure and manpower to deal with such cases. The new agency, which is likely to be launched in a few months, will deal with cases relating to bank fraud, cheating as well as land grabbing. Cases of credit card fraud and hacking of personal bank accounts have been increasing in the state. A senior police official told DH that efforts are being taken to ensure that two policemen who are trained in handling cybercrime cases are posted in each police station.

The high and mighty become victims of online mischief, too

Soumya Das

Even as Kolkata Police do not have any specific data regarding cybercrimes in the city, the high and mighty of West Bengal do not seem to be safe from internet mischief and threats to privacy. Recently, the Mayor of Kolkata and the state’s Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim fell victim to one such incident. A middle-aged man from Nadia district had opened a fake Facebook account in the name of the minister and was spreading false information.

“There is no precise, reliable statistics on cybercrime and the economic loss to victims, mainly because many of them are not reported to authorities,” stated the Kolkata Police.

From 26/11 to online thefts

Mrityunjay Bose

From tackling issues like online thefts, banking frauds, phishing, cyberstalking to undertaking investigations of the 26/11 terrorist attacks, the Maharashtra police have been on the forefront of addressing the issue of cybersecurity.

Every district has a cybercrime police station — and recently Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis laid the foundation for a dedicated cybercrime police station, a cyber lab and a high-tech training facility. “We have selected 1,000 officials to train the police. On one hand, we are bringing in more digitisation for speedy governance and on the other, we are making these systems secure,” said Fadnavis.

At the same time, women and children are increasingly becoming victims of cybercrime, an official of the cybercrime cell told DH. “There have been cases of misuse of platforms like WhatsApp and Twitter,” an official said, adding that the lynching of five beggars in Dhule — suspecting them to be child lifters based on rumours and fake news on social media, was one of the most serious forms of crime.

Across the state, 2,500 to 3,000 cases of cybercrime are reported annually.

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