Technology is a blessing since it has brought all of us closer. A daily wage earner no longer has to stand in queue in the bank to remit his earnings to his family back in the village. He only swipes a few times on his phone, and it is done. An auto driver no longer has to fumble in calculation and provide change for cash payment. New-age business is online, and a cash-free transaction.
The flipside of this, however, are the increasing crimes committed through technology. Remotely, someone sitting in Jamtara can hack a bank account and swipe out a common man’s entire life savings. Every time we initiate a transaction, we run the risk of exposing our private details like phone number and bank account number to the deep dark web. Everything gets stored in clouds, and someone can hack into that data and create mayhem in the lives of hapless individuals.
Many forms of cybercrime
There are many forms of cybercrimes that are rampant today. Using social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, young girls are often befriended and lured into relationships, and then either blackmailed or trafficked. Photographs uploaded on any social media platform get lost in the cloud. They can later be misused through photo morphing. Child pornography is another area of grave concern.
Forgery is also an easy crime given that Aadhaar and Permanent Account Number (PAN) cards are strewn all across, since the information is commonly shared. Many corporates also fall prey to hackers. Hence, from young children to adults to large business entities, everyone is at risk today. In 2021, Bengaluru city registered 6,423 cases as 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 one’s home, through a few clicks and swipes, large amounts of money can be stolen. Irrespective of location, anyone with a device, a moderately stable internet connection can make a quick buck.
A person can make either an innocent phone call or send a text message promising quick returns or KYC enquiry, and hope that a gullible person can be tricked. Unlike traditional crimes of theft or dacoity, one doesn’t have to do any recce or stalk a target, or select a date and time. Many young people, both men and women, are recruited to call, con and then trash the SIM card. Thus leaving behind 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 physically not involved. There is no direct interface with the victim, no scuffle, no need to run or hide. It is a white-collar crime with a huge network of people recruited as scamsters from remote locations. Usually, most of the cybercriminals operate from outside the state and are based in places like New Delhi, Rajasthan, West Bengal or Jharkhand. The modus operandi is simple. They use fake SIM cards to commit offences. 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 pictures, videos or anything which can potentially become a reason for embarrassment later.
Do not share personal information with unknown persons or someone who shows interest in you.
Do not meet online acquaintances alone for the first time.
Do not post content revealing too much personal information such as location, address, contact number and so on.
Do not fill online forms through email/chat that asks for a biodata in the name of matrimony.
In most cases, investigation leads to a dead end on the trail of the SIM card and bank accounts, since they are fake and in the names of innocent, mostly illiterate persons. Many cyber offences are committed by Nigerian nationals using local people. Hence, it is very difficult to identify the exact person who committed the crime. Even when caught, lack of evidence helps them get bail easily. They are habitual offenders who continue to commit crimes when out on bail.
At an institutional level, many financial institutions, including banks, have outsourced customer care to vendors who do not invest enough in data security. Data breach is common and this data is then used by the scamsters to swindle gullible people. Know Your Client (KYC) is the most common trap since it gives access to PAN numbers and Aadhaar details which are prerequisites for bank transactions.
RBI needs to have stringent rules to regulate banks, so that bank account holders can be protected from cybercrimes. Banks need to take responsibility and ensure that along with the money, client data is secure too. People should also remember that if it sounds too good to be true, then it may not be true in all likelihood.
Messages that make unbelievable offers — be it a higher interest rate on savings, a call about a fixed deposit maturing, a text message that lures you to click on a link or a WhatsApp forward from a friend that says answering a few questions on a link will fetch an expensive product — should put you on alert. But more often than not, adults and adolescents click on such links and inadvertently install malware on their device.
Dangers of children accessing technology
At a time when adults are floundering in handling technology and getting duped, children are at an even greater risk. Parents need to be vigilant because today, a criminal can enter your bedroom and rob you without using a key or being present physically. Your child may be sitting right next to you, and falling prey to a crime. Children should not be allowed access to mobile phones or personal computers or use the internet without supervision.
Safe practices to follow
Perpetrators mostly disguise themselves under social networking platforms using fake profiles. If someone seems suspicious, block them. If you suspect an identity theft, report them immediately.
Never feel awkward turning down requests, be it a friend request or a proposal.
Customise your default privacy settings for aspects like who can view your profile, posts, add in groups, tag, chat identity, and so on.
Schools need to conduct awareness programmes on cybercrimes and bullying. Parents also need to make sure that children are adequately informed about the dangers posed by interacting online. Children need to be comfortable asking their parents for any help and they have to be taught about digital footprint, netiquette and cyberbullying. The 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 counselled to share if someone approaches them to play games online.
Despite numbers, cybercrimes under-reported
Easy connectivity with low levels of digital security awareness is making such crimes rampant. During the pandemic, every child and every adult interacted with the world online. Whether it was education or work from home or businesses, many people started moving to cyberspace and used less secure networks.
On the one hand, there are cameras installed in offices and houses to ensure that no crime can take place, while on the other, the same phone or laptop camera can be hacked and a stranger could be watching you while you sleep. There is under-reporting of cybercrimes because of reluctance. Other times, it is because a person may have been duped by a honey trap. At the policing level, lack of criminalisation of cybercrime and cross-jurisdictional complexity makes it difficult to take adequate measures.
Prevention is better than cure, especially when the criminal can enter the very privacy of your bedroom without being detected or suspected. Your phone is a window to the world and just like you can sit in one corner of the earth and transfer money in a jiffy to another part of the world, someone out there can do the same and wipe out your life savings. We have enough cases reported every day to say that even IT professionals and educated adults are easy victims of cybercrimes.
Often, police do not have jurisdiction or the wherewithal to pursue the masking technologies. We can pursue criminals when there are fingerprints or smell that our sniffer dogs can follow, or even a vehicle with a false number plate. However, we cannot chase an invisible robber. We can recover goods that were stolen, but not money that was transferred from one account to another using legitimate documents, the right OTP and passwords.
We protect you, and we urge you to protect your passwords. Your digital safety can be secured through collective effort. Reduce your digital footprint and report it to us whenever the security is breached.
(The author is DCP, South East, Bengaluru)