Fighting Cyber Crimes: Awareness among users is the key
With increasing cases of cyber frauds, smartphone users should become smarter to defeat fraudsters
Cyber fraud —an offshoot of internet technology— is becoming a new phenomenon in the world of crime, everywhere. The Valley, indeed, is not an exception. Kashmir’s Cyber Police Wing, according to the official sources, receives complaints about online frauds and scams on daily basis.
Since tracking down a criminal in the virtual world is not that easy, sometimes offenders succeed to get away. However, in some cases, they are caught. For instance, cyber police, last month, after receiving multiple complaints from online fraud victims, busted a gang of cyber fraudsters who were operating from Srinagar.
This organized gang, according to police was in league with the cybercriminals operating from UP, Bihar, and other states. They were out there to cheat, and defraud gullible citizens.
Although the investigation in the case is still going on, police have tracked down two persons, both residents of South Kashmir’s Kokernag, in the outskirts of the city, where they lived in a rented room. Police have recovered as many as 7 mobile phones, 13 SIM Cards, 47 ATM Debit/Credit cards, 36 FINO Bank account Kit books, 4 Cheque Books, 6 blank cheques, 7 Passbooks, and other documents from the arrestees.
Early this year, police busted fake call centers in Srinagar and arrested 23 persons, who used to dupe people by impersonating as executives of e-commerce companies. Police in a statement revealed that these fake call center executives were making cold calls, and sending e-mails, pop-ups on computer screens of the victims and used to take the remote access of their computers and infect their systems with malware, thus starting extorting money from them in return for help by impersonating as technical support.
Official sources say that the Cyber Police, presently, is investigating a number of cases pertaining to online fraud and other cybercrimes. Some of the offenders are under trial in various courts in the Valley. According to media reports, the Court of Second Additional Sessions Judge in Srinagar, last week, rejected the bail plea of two persons, who are charged for deducting Rs 90,000 from the bank account of a person through cyber fraud. The court in its observation said that such cases should be dealt with “iron hand”. The court further said that “Nowadays, these offenses have become much more worrying as they are being conducted through electronic means, the prevention of which requires strict and prompt action for the safety of innocent citizens,”.
Sources say that besides online fraud, the cyber police receives complaints about hacking, blackmailing, identity theft, and so on and so forth, on daily basis.
In the given scenario, experts emphasize spreading awareness about the safe use of the internet and gadgets. They say that holding a Smartphone in hand could prove dangerous unless a user has smartness of mind as well.
Since the internet has become part of everyone’s life, what are the risks and challenges to a common user; what do experts suggest to ensure protection from cyber fraudsters and; to what extent the law and law enforcement agencies could be helpful to someone who falls prey to online criminals? To get the answers to these questions, KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some concerned people.
Here are the excerpts:
I don’t remember the exact date and the year, but I know that a few years ago, it was the most ill-fated day of my life when I received a message on my phone. The massage suggested that I had ‘won’ a multi-million-pound lottery prize in the UK.
At that time I was working as a driver, driving a private car of a doctor in the Shalateng area, my native place. I don’t know why, but I believed the massage without the slightest doubt.
In this massage, I was asked to furnish my personal details through an email, which I immediately did. Two days later, I received a mail, in which I was given further details about my supposed lottery winning. I was told that my Airtel phone number was one among million phone numbers that got selected in a random selection process. I was told to wait a few days and was strictly advised not to disclose the news.
A few days later, I received a phone call informing me that a team from the UK has reached India to hand over the winning amount to me. I was thrilled to hear it.
The next day the caller told me that since Kashmir was a militancy-prone area, I needed to get an ‘anti-terrorist tribunal certificate’, and for that, I needed to pay Rs 47,000/= as a fee. I was given an ICICI bank account number and told to deposit the amount into it. I went to Srinagar and deposited the amount from an ICICI bank branch.
Two days later, someone called me to say that bank had refused to transfer such a big amount into my account. Then I was told that they had found a broker who was ready to do the same through his own bank account if given a little percentage of the amount as a commission. I was told that the only way to receive the winning prize was to pay some commission to the broker. I agreed. And then I was told to deposit Rs 1, 10,000/= into the so-called broker’s bank account. I borrowed the amount from some of my relatives and then deposited it into the given bank account number.
A day later, I was asked to pay a further amount of 1, 80,000/= to the broker. I borrowed the amount from a friend with a promise that I would repay him double the amount within a few days. Then I deposited this amount into the given bank account number.
Finally, I was told that process of transferring my lottery amount had begun and I needed to wait patiently for the next two days. Two days later, I tried to contact the caller, but his phone was not accessible. Then and there, I realized that I was looted. I had lost an amount of Rs. 3, 37,000/=, by just believing a random message on my phone.
Through, one of my friends, I met the then SSP at Sumbal and told him my ordeal. The Police officer called his subordinates and asked them to look into the matter.
To cut a long story short, I was finally informed that there are no chances of getting my money back.
Later, I had to sell 10 marlas of my ancestral land to get the amount that I had borrowed from my relatives and a friend. Today, the same piece of land would value about a crore rupees. Many years have passed since then, but I still feel the pain and humiliation of the incident.
During my tenure as an SP Cyber Wing, Kashmir; we focused largely on mass awareness. In fact, we began with a comprehensive awareness campaign to ensure that the people – the internet users – know their vulnerabilities in the virtual world.
Also, we wanted to let the people know that cyber police was out there to help in case someone has fallen prey to cybercrime. In this campaign, we would also teach about precautionary measures and the safe usage of their gadgets. We emphasized much on the awareness campaign because of the fact that awareness could be the only prevention from getting trapped by cybercriminals.
Since the usage of gadgets and the internet has increased everywhere and by everyone, the possibility of the misuse of technology by criminals has also risen. For example, after the outbreak of the pandemic early last year, most of the people turned to online shopping; and, eventually, we started getting complaints of scammer buying.
Also, we have been receiving complaints about cyber frauds like KYC (Know your customer) scams. In these scams, the targets get calls from various phone numbers asking them to furnish their bank account details for the updation and verification. Unfortunately, some of the targets, due to their ignorance, get befooled and they reveal their bank account details and passwords to the callers. And then they end up getting robbed.
Moreover, cyber police have been getting many complaints about the things like identity theft, and pornography victimization. In the cases of identity theft, the crooks use the name and picture of the target to create a fake social media account and then use it for personal gains. Also, hacking complaints are most frequent in our society.
Further, cyber police sometimes get complaints from the youngsters, who earlier used to be in relationships and had shared their intimate pictures or videos with each other, get blackmailed because of these pictures. In some cases, after the relationships are ended, one of the partners would blackmail the other through these pictures; causing fear and guilt to the victims.
In addition, some of the complaints come from the customers who shop from Instagram and end up with cheating. Also, we have dealt with some complaints where people had been duped on the name of the KBC (Kaun Banega Crorepati) lottery.
Sadly, in some cases, we found that the offenders in their telephonic conversations had succeeded to win the confidence of their targets to the extent that they had convinced these victims to install some specific Apps and then looted them through these Apps.
Police cyber wing, Kashmir, receives complaints every day. However, I am pleased and satisfied that the cyber police is doing good while dealing with these cases. We have a dedicated team laced with the required technology and a proper infrastructure. In the early days of the cyber police wing, some private companies and individuals came to help us voluntarily. They would guide our boys with their technological know-how.
Furthermore, we have sufficient laws in place to deal with cybercrimes in Kashmir. However, with the augment of technology, criminals too are finding new ways and strategies to carry out their activities. That means we have to go a long way and keep updating ourselves.
To conclude, I would repeat that awareness is the only prevention from falling prey to cybercriminals. We need to spread awareness in every possible way. The purpose of my conversation, with your newspaper, is also to make people aware of the cyber risks.
Cybercrime might be a new thing to Kashmir, but the world has been grappling with this for quite a long time. Over the years, developed societies like that of Europeans and Westerners have succeeded to curb the cybercrime menace to a large extent by bringing tougher laws into practice. Also, these countries have developed enough checks and balances to tackle cyber risks.
However, we do not have sufficient laws in place here. We are still governed by the Information Technology Act, 2000; and some sections such as 420 and 468 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), to take care of cybercrimes.
These laws, indeed, help us to deal with criminals, but I think we require some harsher laws to handle the growing cybercrimes in our society. As a cyber lawyer, I have been dealing with a number of cases where innocent people have been victimized by online offenders. On the basis of my experience, I would say that we need a law, which will enable us to blacklist a cyber fraudster for all times to come. So that he or she will not be able to repeat these offenses.
Furthermore, I would say that even though cyber vulnerabilities are equally found everywhere in the world; people in Kashmir are less tech-savvy to handle the risks. In our part of the land, most of the internet users are ignorant about the new technologies; while as, on the other hand, the hackers, and the fraudsters are smarter. They use novel methods and strategies to get naive persons into their trap.
Therefore, I think awareness-raising among the masses is the only way to tackle cyber criminals. I would suggest that a subject on cyber risks and precautionary masseurs should be introduced at the high school level for the students so that they are capable enough to face the challenges and threats from the new technology. Since Artificial Intelligence (AI) is getting augmented day by day, thus we need to be smart enough to tackle its challenges and risks.
Online frauds include scams, identity theft, scammer buying (using someone’s bank details without his or her knowledge); scam pop-up alerts and messages; chain letter scams (fraud messages sent to a huge number of people with the intention of cheating), and so on.
Some examples of these frauds include fake loan offers, in which people are allured to ‘Assured approvals’ of loans; the promise of employment against ‘fee’; lottery scams (notifying of you winning a prize against a processing fee); free vacation offers etc.
Also, it has been observed that some underground rackets are out there to lure youth into fake nude video calls on social media, and later blackmail them for money. This is commonly known as a ‘honey trap’.
Unfortunately, with the increasing usage of gadgets and the internet, the incidences of online frauds are also gaining momentum with each passing day. And, for sure, online users will always be vulnerable to becoming victims of cybercrime as long as they trust everything and everyone in the virtual world.
Ironically, as we are adopting technology and becoming part of digital transformation, the cybercriminals are also becoming sharper in their methods to fraud the users, especially the ones with no, or little cyber knowledge.
It is worrying that many smartphone and computer users are tricked by criminals thorough techniques like phishing —luring users to provide their personal information by sending them fraudulent emails or SMSs, or by calling. By doing so, these criminals lead users to activities that deprive their money.
Since the online buying and selling applications, advertisements and classifieds sites, social media platforms, are also being used by criminals; the users ought to be educated enough about the basic security and privacy settings of their gadgets.
And, to ensure safety and security from the fraudsters in the virtual world, online users must take some precautionary measures such as: they should only install and use trusted Applications on their gadgets; the unsolicited emails or phone calls or SMS messages should not be responded to; the users should be cautious when someone is offering them rewards/gifts/money —this could be over phone/ SMS or email. Everyone must understand that there are no freebies. Thus, a user should be alerted when he or she is allured to such offers on the internet.
Also, the users must secure their email and phone, and applications with a strong password and two-factor authentication (an extra layer of security); they should not store or save their debit/credit cards in applications. The applications that mandate storing of debit/credit card numbers should be avoided.
Further, an internet user should be him/herself genuine while creating an online account or a profile on social media; and accept invitations, or add contacts only after doing some level of due diligence. Sometimes users unintentionally add fake and fraudster accounts as friends and contacts on social media. This should be strictly evaded.
Furthermore, I would suggest that every user should try to understand basic phone settings such as ‘Location settings’, and ‘Security and Privacy setting’. One should never permit Apps that track the activities of the user. Similarly, we should not permit sharing our data with other applications and service providers.
Moreover, users must understand that all confidential data —such as bank account details, PAN, Aadhar Nos, education certificates, passports, etc — that they are storing on their gadgets or within emails and applications, could be misused by criminals by hacking into your accounts. Therefore, storing such important documents and numbers (passwords) should not be kept within emails and phone Applications.
Last but not least, kids should be allowed to use the internet only under supervision, or leverage parental controls techniques offered by application and service providers.
To conclude, I would say that during the last few years Govt and some private bodies have started emphasizing spreading cyber education; however, there is a long way to go. In the short term, educated folks in the family must talk about Dos and Don’ts while gadgets are used by less tech-savvy members. The less tech-savvy members of the family should be told about the dark sides of technology. As far as long-term cyber education is concerned, workshops can be conducted at various levels to spread awareness. Schools can play a larger role in spreading this awareness.