‘Digital arrest’ scam: MHA blocks 1K+ Skype IDs

The repercussions of these cyber scams have been financially devastating for victims, with losses amounting to staggering figures, often in the lakhs.
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.

HYDERABAD: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), in response to a growing trend of fraudsters impersonating law enforcement agencies and intimidating unsuspecting victims through a practice known as ‘digital arrests’, has collaborated with Microsoft to block over 1,000 Skype IDs associated with such operations.

In a ‘digital arrest’, victims are coerced into remaining visually available over video conferencing platforms like Skype and are ‘interrogated’ until their demands are met. To further deceive their targets, criminals often operate from studios resembling police stations or government offices, wearing uniforms to bolster their credibility.

Operating under the guise of police authorities, the CBI, Narcotics Control Bureau, RBI, ED and other law enforcement agencies, these criminals employ sophisticated tactics to fool the victims.

The modus operandi typically involves a phone call to the victim, during which the fraudster claims that the victim has either sent or is the intended recipient of a parcel containing illegal substances, fake passports or other contraband items. Alternatively, they may falsely assert that a family member or acquaintance of the victim is involved in a crime or accident and is in their custody. To resolve the fabricated situation, the fraudsters demand a hefty sum of money, coercing the victim into compliance.

“It’s alarming to see fraudsters exploiting Skype in this manner, impersonating police officers and using the same warrants issued to them to intimidate victims,” said Hyderabad cybercrime DCP Kavitha.

Numbers gathered illegally

Previous probes suggest that fraudsters often sourced victims’ phone numbers from online databases or through illicit means, such as purchasing them from contract bank employees. However, this recent shift to Skype marks a departure from traditional methods, enabling fraudsters to target victims on a larger scale while maintaining anonymity.

The repercussions of these cyber scams have been financially devastating for victims, with losses amounting to staggering figures, often in the lakhs. Hyderabad cybercrime police are receiving complaints pertaining to the loss of amounts and are actively probing into them.

In response to this growing threat, the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C), under the MHA, has intensified efforts to combat cybercrime. Collaborating with various ministries, agencies and organisations, including the RBI, the I4C is leveraging technological tools to identify and investigate these fraudulent activities.

One measure taken by I4C includes the blocking of over 1,000 Skype IDs associated with such criminal operations in collaboration with Microsoft. Additionally, efforts are underway to block SIM cards, mobile devices, and mule accounts utilised by these fraudsters.

Call ‘1930’ to report scams

To raise awareness and empower citizens against such scams, I4C has issued alerts through various channels, including social media platforms like ‘Cyberdost.’ Citizens are urged to remain vigilant and report any suspicious calls or incidents to the cybercrime helpline at 1930 or visit www.cybercrime.gov.in for assistance.

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