With deepening internet penetration in the country during the pandemic, cybercrimes targeting teenage victims and online financial frauds are on the rise
DCP cybercrime Anyesh Roy, Delhi Police, says an increase in people falling victim to leakage of their intimate photos is worrisome. While the growth of this kind of crime may not be exponentially large, it is alarming because most of the victims in these cases are teenagers, he adds.
“It has been increasing gradually, over a period of time. Many times people share their personal intimate photos and videos with someone, maybe part of a relationship they had. Once the relationship sours, this particular content is misused by the other person. Such complaints are growing in number.”
During the lockdown, cybercrime experts had pointed to a considerable rise in cybercrime against women. Even the National Commission for Women (NCW) had pointed to the number of complaints it was receiving on its online platform: 54 cybercrime complaints were received online in April in comparison to 37 complaints – received online and by post — in March and 21 complaints in February.
Looking at the ‘Nature-Wise Report of the Complaints Received by NCW’ till 8 December this year, we see that by May, cybercrime reports had shot up to 73, climbing even higher by July with 110 cases registered. From then on, the descent began with 68 cases of cybercrime registered with the NCW in August, 48 in October and until the 8th of December the total complaints registered were 13, bringing the total cases of cybercrime to 660 with the NCW.
DCP Roy says that while their division does not directly deal with crimes against women, they are aware of several complaints on cybercrime which are filed. “These are primarily regarding creation of fake profiles, posting of offensive messages on profile, sharing contact number of victims on sites and various online stalking and harassment. They (such incidents) have been there earlier and we see it continuing.”
He also points out that with the pandemic, awareness programmes have taken a backseat. “We used to have many elaborate programmes with schools and had also sensitised more than 2,000 teachers but that stopped due to Covid.” While they have conducted some programmes online, he admits that the efficacy is limited due to it being online. “Nevertheless, we have used various mediums to propagate online safety, including through radio and social media”.
DCP cybercrime in Gurgaon, Astha Modi also points to an awareness programme which has taken a hit due to Covid. “I believe there is not adequate awareness about what kind of information you are putting online. There is a sense of security because you believe that person is not there physically present in front of you. A lot of people voluntarily give away their information. People have sent inappropriate, compromising, private photographs so there is always the danger of hacking.”
She also thinks awareness programmes are especially required in Haryana’s villages, where the internet has reached but people are unaware of the dangers that come with online connectivity. While the Durga Shakti Rapid Action Force conducts such awareness programmes, and SPs and their team go out for outreach, she says, there is now a setback.
This comes at a time when dangers are seen to be increasing. Between March and April 2020, India witnessed a staggering 86% increase in cyber-attacks. According to the UN Special Rapporteur, women are both disproportionately targeted by online violence and suffer disproportionately serious consequences as a result.
NCW chief Rekha Sharma says the complaints received by NCW during and after lockdown are more than what they have received earlier. “The sheer volume of cyber crimes against women has severe social and economic implications for women and girls. This is when cybercrimes in India are severely underreported. The need of shifting our focus to making cyberspace gender aware is to hold the principle that the respect for and security of girls and women must at all times be front and center of those in charge of producing and providing the content, technical backbone and enabling environment of our digital society.”
But while NCW and experts may say cybercrimes against women during Covid increased, DCPs of Delhi, Gurgaon and Gautam Budh Nagar say the increase in cybercrime is steady but more so of financial fraud.
In the country, the full extent of cybercrime is seen through the figures of National Cybercrime Reporting Portal which was launched in August last year. In June, the total cases registered rose to 3,205 while July saw a turn for the worse with 4,113, coming down slightly to 3,821 cases in August. Cases of financial fraud did take a huge chunk of that crime at 59%, whereas social media related incidents were 24% of such crimes.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) also decided to raise a group of cybercrime volunteers. We spoke with one of them, Kamran Sahil, who is also an ethical hacker. “Because of my skills with cyber intelligence I have chosen to report unlawful content on social media. This is then taken ahead by the cyber cell of the state concerned.”
He points out that in the last six months cybercrime has increased and especially of financial fraud related to OLX – an online marketplace – and phishing links which are circulated. “A person was the victim of fraud in Gurgaon. A man was selling a bicycle and the seller sent a QR code. When the victim scanned the code in Google Pay, Rs 70,000 was deducted. We have the transaction ID and everything yet nothing has moved forward since filing last month.”
Nitin Tiwari, who is DCP Cybercrime in Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Budh Nagar, says scamsters are learning about the new ways in which they can cheat people. “As usage (of the internet) increases so does the crime. During Covid there has been a rise in small UPI frauds, not major data thefts”.
He says there are a few issues with the legal system that should be noted, one being the jurisdiction issue, second the cost of investigation and thirdly the number of investigators, which falls short of the required number in the increasingly high cybercrime cases.
“Offence happens at one place and the investigation (usually) has to take place at another. The amount of fraud is usually small, but to investigate the overall cost exceeds the total amount of the actual offence. Furthermore, the volume of crime is such that you are unable to give enough time to one particular offence. Cybercrime cases are not very hard to solve but the main issue is the management. This is what everyone should be focused on. It cannot be dealt with on one level, with the rate at which it is increasing… currently there is a provision that only an inspector can investigate a cybercrime. But I think in due course of time even the number of inspectors will not be able to investigate. The teams should be bigger.”
NCW’s fifth law review consultation on cybercrime against women saw experts suggesting framing of proper policies for better implementation of laws, with many saying that existing laws were enough but not executed to their best. There was also another notion that new legal provisions which exclusively focused on dealing with cybercrime against women and children could help in tackling the problem.
DCPs Roy and Modi both believe that existing laws cover all manner of offences, while the latter does agree that it can be “more specific and stringent”.
Sharma says the focus on combating cybercrime against women should shift on creating mechanisms for immediate relief to the victim rather than on criminalization alone. With cases being underreported as she pointed out earlier, it may help as she suggests if complaint mechanisms become more robust, along with training the law implementation agencies “in its wise use so that spirit of law is upheld”.
“Policy and law regarding data privacy, offensive communication through Internet and digital communication technology and jurisdictional… need to be reviewed and improved for better tackling of this menace.” With an increasing “menace of women being harassed on social media” the NCW believes that there is a need to specifically cater to this.
The NCRB data from 2019 shows the total number of cases registered under cybercrimes was 18,372, showing an increase of 81.9% over 2018 (10,098 cases). In Delhi, specifically, we looked at the number of cybercrime cases which were filed under the crimes against women and found a total of 11 incidents and 13 victims, out of which five of the incidents pertained to ‘publishing or transmitting of sexually explicit material (Sec. 67A/67B (Girls) IT Act)’.
Haryana on the other hand had a total of 46 incidents out of which 41 were of publishing or transmitting sexually explicit material and UP had a whopping 210 incidents out of which 178 were those of sexually explicit material.