Technology is a blessing as it has brought us all closer. A daily wage earner no longer has to stand in line at the bank to transfer his earnings to his family in the village. He just swipes the phone a few times and it’s done. A car driver no longer needs to fumble in the calculation and give change for cash payment. New-age business is online, and a cashless transaction.
The flip side of this, however, is the increasing number of crimes committed through technology. From a distance, someone sitting in Jamtara can hack a bank account and withdraw the entire savings of a common man. Every time we initiate a transaction, we risk exposing our private details such as phone numbers and bank account numbers to the dark web. Everything is stored in clouds and someone can hack into this data and wreak havoc in the lives of unhappy individuals.
Many forms of cybercrime
CK Baba, Deputy Commissioner of Police, South East Division, Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K
There are many forms of cybercrime that are widespread today. Using social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, young girls are often befriended and lured into relationships, and then either blackmailed or trafficked. Photographs uploaded to any social media platform are lost in the cloud. They can later be abused through photomorphing. Child pornography is another area of serious concern.
Forgery is also an easy crime given that Aadhaar and Permanent Account Number (PAN) cards are strewn about, as the information is often shared. Many companies also fall victim to hackers. Therefore, from small children to adults to large business entities, everyone is at risk today. In 2021, the city of Bengaluru recorded 6,423 cases compared to Delhi (345), Mumbai (2,883), Chennai (76) and Kolkata (220).
Crime, from the comfort of one’s home
Cybercrimes are popular because they can be done remotely. From the comfort of home, through a few clicks and swipes, large amounts of money can be stolen. Regardless of location, anyone with a device, a moderately stable internet connection can make a quick buck.
A person can either make an innocent phone call or send a text message promising a quick return or KYC request, hoping that a gullible person might be duped. Unlike traditional crimes of theft or dacoity, one does not need to do any recce or pursue a target, or choose a date and time. Many young people, both men and women, are recruited to call, scam and then throw away the SIM card. Thus we leave no clue, no trace. Given the nature of this crime, it becomes impossible to trace the criminals.
Digital crimes leave very little evidence
The invisibility of the perpetrators has changed the perception of crime. It is easy to recruit people for such crimes because they are not physically involved. There is no direct interface with the victim, no argument, no need to run or hide. It is a white collar crime with a huge network of people recruited as fraudsters from remote locations. Generally, most cybercriminals operate outside the state and are based in places like New Delhi, Rajasthan, West Bengal or Jharkhand. The method is simple. They use fake SIM cards to commit crimes. Fake bank accounts are created to siphon off the victim’s money and to divert the investigating agencies.
What NOT to do
Do not share personal photos, videos or anything that could potentially become a cause of embarrassment later.
Do not share personal information with strangers or anyone who shows interest in you.
Don’t meet netizens alone for the first time.
Do not post content that reveals too much personal information such as location, address, contact number and so on.
Do not fill electronic forms via email/chat asking for biodata in the name of marriage.
In most cases, investigation leads to a dead end on the trail of the SIM card and bank accounts, as they are fake and in the name of innocent, mostly illiterate people. Many cyber crimes are committed by Nigerian nationals using locals. Therefore, it is very difficult to identify the exact person who committed the crime. Even when caught, lack of evidence helps them get bail. They are habitual offenders who continue to commit crimes when they are out on bail.
At an institutional level, many financial institutions, including banks, have outsourced customer processing to vendors who do not invest enough in data security. Data breaches are common and this data is then used by the fraudsters to defraud gullible people. Know Your Client (KYC) is the most common trap as it provides access to PAN numbers and Aadhaar details which are prerequisites for banking transactions.
RBI needs to have strict rules to regulate banks so that bank account holders can be protected from cyber crime. The banks must take responsibility and ensure that the client data is secure together with the money. People should also remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
Messages that make incredible offers – be it a higher interest rate on savings, a call about a fixed deposit maturing, a text message that entices you to click on a link or a WhatsApp forward from a friend that says to answer some questions on a link will fetch an expensive product — should put you on your guard. But more often than not, adults and teens click on such links and inadvertently install malware on their device.
Dangers of children accessing technology
At a time when adults are scrambling to handle technology and be tricked, children are at even greater risk. Parents need to be vigilant because nowadays a criminal can walk into your bedroom and rob you without using a key or being physically present. Your child could be sitting right next to you and be the victim of a crime. Children must not have access to mobile phones or personal computers or use the internet without supervision.
Safe practices to follow
Perpetrators mostly hide under social networking platforms using fake profiles. If someone seems suspicious, block them. If you suspect identity theft, report them immediately.
Never feel awkward turning down requests, be it a friend request or a suggestion.
Customize default privacy settings for aspects like who can see your profile, posts, adding to groups, tagging, chat identity and so on.
Schools must implement awareness programs about cybercrime and bullying. Parents must also ensure that children are adequately informed about the dangers of interacting online. Children need to be comfortable asking their parents for help, and they need to be taught about digital footprints, the internet and cyberbullying. Access to screen time and video games should be monitored and they should be educated about the dangers of online games like Blue Whale, Fire Fairy, etc. They should also be advised to share if someone approaches them to play games online.
Despite the numbers, cybercrime was underreported
Ease of connectivity with low levels of digital security awareness makes such crimes prevalent. During the pandemic, every child and every adult interacted with the world online. Whether it was education or work from home or businesses, many began to move to cyberspace and used less secure networks.
On the one hand, cameras are installed in offices and houses to ensure that no crime can take place, while on the other hand, the same phone or laptop camera can be hacked and a stranger can watch you while you sleep. There is under-reporting of cybercrime due to reluctance. Other times it is because a person may have been tricked by a honey trap. At police level, the lack of criminalization of cybercrime and cross-jurisdictional complexity make it difficult to implement adequate measures.
Prevention is better than cure, especially when criminals can enter the privacy of your bedroom without detection or suspicion. Your phone is a window to the world, and just as you can sit in one corner of the world and transfer money in the blink of an eye to another part of the world, someone out there can do the same and wipe out your savings. We have enough cases reported every day to say that even IT professionals and educated adults are easy victims of cybercrime.
The police often do not have the jurisdiction or the means to pursue the masking technologies. We can pursue criminals when there are fingerprints or odors that our sniffer dogs can follow, or even a vehicle with a fake number plate. However, we cannot chase an invisible robber. We can recover items that were stolen, but not money that was transferred from one account to another, using legitimate documents, the correct one-time code and password.
We protect you, and we encourage you to protect your passwords. Your digital security can be ensured through collective efforts. Reduce your digital footprint and report it to us when security is breached.
(The author is DCP, South East, Bengaluru)