Cyberbullying is a psychological war against Indians

While there are a few NGOs that already have cyber victim counselling centres, the government promoting its own service will boost the morale of citizens
Image for representational purpose. (Express Illustration)
Image for representational purpose. (Express Illustration)

A senior police officer receives a call from an unknown number, with the caller identifying himself as a loan recovery agent from a reputed bank. The person informs the officer that one of his staff has defaulted on a loan availed online, using the officer’s name and number as reference. 

When the person on the call claims that the onus is on the officer, the cop realises that his number has been picked up from the police website and is an attempt to cheat him. When the so-called agent starts verbally abusing the officer over calls and WhatsApp messages from multiple numbers, the officer lodges a complaint with the cyber cell, only to know that several other senior officers have been targeted with a similar modus operandi. To avoid further escalation, the officers had to call their staff, asking them to repay the loan by contacting the loan recovery agent.

In a similar incident, Vijay, a sales executive availed an online loan using an instant loan app. Despite paying twice the amount he had taken as loan, the loan wasn’t closed and was continuously asked to pay hefty interest. When he refused to budge after a point, Vijay started getting abusive and threatening calls. The loan recovery agent accessed Vijay’s phone contacts list through the app installed and made similar calls to his friends, family members, colleagues and even his boss, abusing them. They also went to the extent of sending obscene morphed images of Vijay to all the contacts in his list apart from being slapped with a fake legal notice. 

Both these true stories make it evident that everyone from a layman to a senior police officer isn’t spared by cybercriminals who hide behind the screen of anonymity. There are even multiple cases where mental harassment by these loan apps’ tele-callers has resulted in many innocent people dying by suicide. Most of the kingpins involved in such scam are foreign nationals who have servers based in other countries. They open shell Indian companies and recruit tele-callers to execute their task. These agents practice unethical methods to recover the loan. This is psychological warfare against Indian society as Cyberbullying is evolving into newer dimensions by the day. These online loan scam apps aren’t just aiming to extort money from the victims but also to destabilise the financial status and psychological well-being of this country’s citizens.

There have been several advisory notices issued by many state police on a regular basis to not fall prey to these unauthorised online loan apps.  However, people still end up becoming victims. Many unregulated, exorbitant interest-charging loan system exists in our society in the name of ‘meter interest’, ‘hourly interest,’etc. To evade those harassments, common people fall into this trap of online loans where conversations and transactions take place virtually between two complete strangers without knowing the underlying horrifying impacts. While these online loan apps provide instant loans without demanding any mortgage, by installing the loan app, victims end up giving access to valuable assets such as personal and bank details, thereby becoming targets for these fraudsters.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has come up with many initiatives to tackle cybercrimes. RBI has also issued digital lending guidelines to protect borrowers. Centre has blocked many such loan apps that aren’t whitelisted by the RBI as mediums that adhere to its guidelines. However many unscrupulous loan apps keep surfacing in the digital world. In order to save the victims of cyberbullying, the Government of India opening a national level ‘cyber victim counselling centre’ with a common helpline number would be a commendable move. It can function with trained specialists who can provide counsel for victims on several issues -- such as preventing them from taking drastic decisions, overcoming mental harassment and also guiding and encouraging them to approach law enforcement agencies for help. While there are a few NGOs that already have cyber victim counselling centres, the government promoting its own service will boost the morale of citizens by reassuring them that their problems will be heard and solutions will be delivered. 

Apart from cyberbullying, a centralised cyber counselling centre will also aid in rehabilitating victims of cyber addictions such as online gambling, gaming apps, cybersex and more harmful addictions. Failing to protect and rehabilitate victims of cyberbullying will lead to a regressive society. 
‘Give me 100 young energetic men and I shall transform India’, said Swami Vivekananda knowing that the affirmative, strong mind of the young generation and working groups is the real asset of a nation. Let us stand together to fight against this psychological warfare in this new cyber age.

Kingpins abroad
Most kingpins involved in such scam are foreign nationals who have servers based in other countries. They open shell firms and recruit tele-callers 

Footnote is a weekly column that discusses issues relating to Tamil Nadu

The author is an IPS officer and native of Krishnagiri district. She is now Superintendent of Police, Kiphire district of Nagaland. Views expressed here are purely personal

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