BENGALURU: Crime has evolved, shedding its traditional, blood-stained face into a more insidious, faceless form, advancing in step with Karnataka’s technological prowess. It is as if the state’s and Bengaluru’s very identity is shifting from the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ to the ‘Cybercrime Capital of India’.
In a world where murderers, robbers, kidnappers, and thieves had ruled the roost, a new breed of criminals -- shadowy figures hidden behind screens and codes — are orchestrating a different kind of anarchy — cybercrimes. Bengaluru, with the highest number of cases reported in the state, has become the hotspot for this new wave of crime. Even the most powerful figures, like politicians, bureaucrats, film stars, and IT magnates, are not immune to digital fraud. Other districts in the state too witnessed a rise in cybercrimes reported each day.
To combat this rising tide, Home Minister Dr G Parameshwara recently called upon a committee comprising members from the Home and Information Technology Departments to formulate a comprehensive cyber policy to tackle the escalating cybercrime cases.
Loss of Rs 470 crore
As cybercrime incidents are surging across the state, Bengaluru has witnessed people, often the minds behind technology, falling victim to these crimes. These cases have collectively resulted in a loss of a whopping Rs 470 crore (from January till September this year) across 18 distinct patterns like freebies, online job frauds, credit/debit card frauds, cryptocurrency investments, sextortion through different social media platforms, etc. Of them, online job fraud is the most reported crime in the city that is known for its start-ups.
In Bengaluru Rural CEN police station limits, a 37-year-old IT professor lost Rs 5.2 lakh. He was enticed into a part-time job offer where fraudsters promised him that he could earn money just by ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ videos on YouTube. In another case reported in the Bengaluru West Division, a 45-year-old man lost all his savings in his bank account after he opted for a multiplex gold subscription card, which apparently had exclusive movie and food discounts.
At the time of subscription, he shared his Aadhaar one-time password (OTP) with the fraudsters, who used it to siphon off close to Rs 1.18 lakh, leaving just Rs 200 in his account. A real estate agent from South East Bengaluru lost over Rs 1 crore within a week after falling into an investment trap. Cybercriminals made him believe that his investment of Rs 50 lakh could get him a return of Rs 70 lakh.
In 2019, 10,553 cybercrimes were registered in Bengaluru, which dropped to 8,892 in 2020. It went down further to 6,422 in 2021 because of the pandemic. However, the cases spiked to 9,940 in 2022 after people started coming out of Covid. Till September, Bengaluru had already recorded its highest-ever cybercrimes at 12,615.
e-shopping without checking authenticity of websites
Many youngsters assume that they have superior technological knowledge and tend to engage in online purchasing without questioning the authenticity of websites, said Bengaluru City Police Commissioner B Dayananda.
“Cybercriminals exploit this tendency by gathering data and specifically targeting the youth. They create duplicate websites and leverage artificial intelligence to understand their preferences, leading them into the trap of cybercrime,” he added.
People should recognize that while online shopping offers convenience, it also comes with risks. To stay safe, they should only make purchases from well-known and trusted websites that have established themselves in the market, boast of a significant user base, and feature genuine customer reviews, he said.
CK Baba, Deputy Commissioner of Police (South-East), Bengaluru, said that when the world is saturated with technology and social media apps, the menace of social media fraud looms large. Cybercriminals exploit these platforms to gather personal data and conversations, which they weaponize against individuals. Their tactics involve infiltrating social media accounts through hacking or creating deceptively similar fake profiles, followed by extortion attempts.
To safeguard against such threats, individuals should adopt robust security measures. One critical step is to employ alphanumeric passwords, i.e., using a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols that are not easily predictable or linked to personal information, such as names. It is crucial to maintain distinct and complex passwords for each online account. Using a single password across multiple accounts is convenient, but compromises privacy by providing cybercriminals a golden opportunity to access a vast array of sensitive data, he explained.
On the risks involved in using free Wi-Fi, he said students and the working class are increasingly falling victim to cybercrime when they connect to public Wi-Fi networks. As soon as we connect our devices to public Wi-Fi networks, apart from those provided at locations like airports and railway stations, we inadvertently expose our data to potential threats. Such free Wi-Fi spots are intentionally set up to entice people, leading them to unwittingly compromise their data security. People frequently choose such locations for work or leisure, not realizing the risks involved, he explained.
Timely reporting vital
Cyber experts stress on timely reporting of any cybercrime as it plays a key role in recovering money. Vineet Kumar, Global President, CyberPeace Foundation, said that because of technological advancements, it has become increasingly challenging to discern genuine messages from cyber traps. People should be cautious and avoid trusting any communication from unknown sources.
The messages, crafted using sophisticated AI, appear genuine and often contain links that can lead to malicious software capable of stalking victims. The software gains unauthorized access to cameras and microphones, posing a serious threat to people’s privacy and security.
He explained that it is crucial to dial the emergency number 1930 or report the incident to the nearest police station immediately. This urgency is essential because, in many cases, once the victim’s funds are debited, they are swiftly transferred to multiple accounts within minutes. Timely reporting enables the department concerned to take prompt action, potentially freezing the maximum possible amount and aiding the investigation process.
Aadhaar-Enabled Payment System, a new avenue
Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS), which allows transactions up to Rs 10,000 only through Aadhaar number and biometric data, is also being misused by cyber criminals to defraud people. Mangaluru City Police Commissioner Anupam Agrawal said many people in the coastal city have complained of money being auto-debited from their accounts after submitting biometric details at sub- registrar’s offices.
Over 10 cases involving AEPS have been reported since September. The investigation revealed that fraudsters deducted money using AEPS on a Point of Sale (PoS) machine by stealing the biometric details of the people who had submitted them on Kaveri 2.0 software. Similar cases have been reported in Hassan and Shivamogga districts.
The Hassan CEN police station has recorded over 700 cybercrimes. Fake messages asking people to obtain easy loans, link bank accounts with Aadhaar for government schemes, and link PAN card with Aadhaar are being used to swindle people. One of the solutions could be to ban VPN usage. The police advise people to be cautious of calls and messages from unknown numbers, offering interest-free loans, gifts, and schemes.
Dr Ananth Prabhu, a cyber security expert from Mangaluru on AEPS, said the scam involves an Aadhaar number being used to extort up to Rs 10,000 in one transaction from people who have provided biometric data during any registration process. Cybercriminals typically operate in the guise of government officials or intermediaries.
While districts like Shivamogga haven’t reported any cases of cybercrimes involving land records, the Shivamogga CEN police have taken proactive steps to educate the public about potential fraudsters.
Types of cybercrimes commonly reported
(With inputs from Praveen Kumar (Bengaluru), Divya Cutinho (Mangaluru), BR Udaya Kumar (Hassan), Arpitha I (Shivamogga), Prakash Samaga (Udupi), Subhash Chandra G)