Cybercrimes rise in several states during lockdown

Cyber crime has been on the rise in several states during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Numbers were higher in 2020 compared to 2019 and the trend continues this year.
Image for representation
Image for representation

BHOPAL/CHANDIGARH/KOLKATA:  Cyber crime has been on the rise in several states during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Numbers were higher in 2020 compared to 2019 and the trend continues this year. According to official figures, registered cases almost tripled in Punjab and nearly doubled in Chhattisgarh. Bihar recorded a 20% rise. Going by unofficial estimates, cyber crime in Madhya Pradesh increased by 70% in this period. Situation is similar in West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Assam.

There is a pattern in the nature of these crimes. They can broadly be divided in four categories. 1. Floating non-existent agencies and duping customers on the pretext of supplying food, medicine, oxygen and other essentials. 2. Luring people into online transactions and robbing them after getting hold of their account details/hacking accounts. 3. Creating fake social media accounts of influential figures like IAS and IPS officers and deceiving the public using their names. 4. Filming and circulating pornographic material online/blackmailing women by threatening to share images of intimate moments.

The government of Chhattisgarh, where such cases rose to 432 in 2020 from 237 in 2019, has notified five new cyber police stations in every range headquarters, said RK Vij, Special DGP (planning & management, telecommunication, cyber section). NH Khan, ADG (Economic Offence Units) of Bihar, said policemen have been trained in detecting and preventing these crimes. Some other states have also taken steps to strengthen their infrastructure to deal with this.

“Cyber crime has increased during this Covid period. Criminals call people saying they have won a lottery and there is a parcel which can be collected if they provide bank details. We registered many cases and recovered money in some. We request people not to share bank details with unknown people,’’ said Rakesh Agarwal, Police Commissioner of Ludhiana.

Last year, a Merchant Navy officer from Indore received an e-mail on refund of his Customs duty worth a hefty sum, for which he was asked to pay Rs 62 lakh as processing fee. He paid up and didn’t get the refund. Investigations led MP Police to a Nigerian based in Delhi, who used his contacts in Indore and Gwalior to pursue unemployed/poor people to open bank accounts. These accounts were used to ‘park’ the cyber fraud money. At least 15 such accounts were tracked in MP.

In Bihar, a NALCO officer was duped `40 lakh. A former DRDO scientist was conned Rs 5 lakh in a similar case. These networks are well spread and Bihar Police have made cyber crime arrests from UP, Delhi and Bengaluru. Faking social media accounts is rampant and among victims are former state minister Vinod Jha, a DIG of Patna and an IAS officer. In Bengal, four cases were lodged by film and serial actors, alleging their photographs were morphed and circulated with objectionable content on social media.

People concerned think heightened use of internet caused by the lockdown, people switching to online modes of business and joblessness resulting out of the pandemic are among reasons. “Activities are carried out on electronic platforms. A section of people, who have become jobless because of the pandemic, entered the cyber world to find prey. People are using digital platforms without limit and exploring all possibilities. Other than financial frauds, cases targeting women are also taking place,’’ said Amitesh Mukhopadhyay, professor of sociology in Kolkata’s Jadavpur University.

Digital dependency is the diagnosis elsewhere as well. “During the lockdown, internet and cell phone usage grew exponentially. People used the online mode for all requirements — daily purchases, medicines, even travel services. Digital payments grew unimaginably, making people more vulnerable to cyber fraud. This resulted in a major jump in cyber crime, particularly during the lockdown period,” said Jitendra Singh, superintendent of MP Police’s cyber cell in Indore.

Nature of crime

1.Floating non-existent agencies & duping customers on the pretext of supplying food, medicine, oxygen & other essentials
2.Luring people into online transactions & robbing them after getting hold of account details
/hacking accounts
3.Creating fake social media accounts of influential figures like IAS/IPS officers, deceiving public using their names
4.Filming & circulating pornographic material online/blackmailing by threatening to share images of intimate moments

With inputs from Prasanta Mazumdar (Guwahati), Rajesh Kumar Thakur (Patna), Ejaz Kaiser (Raipur)

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