Sanjeev Singh Bariana
PUNJAB may not be a hotspot for cybercrime activities in the country, but the state has seen a substantial increase in the number of online fraud cases over the past three years. The investigation trail has often led to Jamtara (Jharkhand), Nuh (Haryana), Bharatpur (Rajasthan), Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) and even locations abroad.
- Complaints regarding cybercrime can be lodged at cybercrime.punjabpolice.gov.in
- Complainants can also track the status
- Can call helpline no. 1930 to lodge complaints
As many as 512 FIRs were registered under the Information Technology Act in the state in 2021. The number increased to 660 in 2022 and at least 394 FIRs have been registered till date this year.
We are training our teams to identify cases of data theft, cyber stalking, hacking, virus attack, web pornography, e-mail threat, obscene mails and credit cards frauds. Praveen Kumar Sinha, ADGP (Cyber Crime), Punjab
ADGP (Cyber Crime) Praveen Kumar Sinha says getting hold of those managing the cybercrime networks has its own complications. “Tracing the main accused involves sustained investigation. The suspects have been traced to Jharkhand, Gujarat, Kerala and Kashmir. In one case, detailed investigation revealed that these boys were merely the frontmen of a massive Internet racket being managed from Hong Kong.”
The number of FIRs is rising because there is increased public awareness about IT-related crime. “We are constantly working on creating new work structures for handling cybercrime, particularly in terms of introducing the latest equipment, training personnel and increasing our networking,” says the ADGP.
Punjab Police have found that foxing people, particularly the elderly, in giving out their one-time passwords (OTPs) is the most common way of deceiving them. In one case, the Ludhiana Police Commissionerate, on September 20, caught a cyber fraud gang that siphoned off Rs 57 lakh from the account of an NRI. They had managed to lure him to give the OTPs on his mobile to the caller.
A senior officer says besides police action, there is a need for inculcating social responsibility when it comes to the use of IT-related services. Last year, he reminds, a private university witnessed unpleasant scenes following leaking of objectionable videos of a student. The incident, he says, should have marked a beginning for all institutions to introduce programmes for educating students on IT-related crime and its possible impact on their future. “We have not heard of any.”
Punjab, incidentally, has just one cybercrime police station, based in Mohali. Comparatively, all the districts of Haryana, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra have cybercrime police stations.
In Punjab, each district has a cybercrime cell that functions without any specialised workforce. A victim of a cybercrime is expected to reach out to the police station in the area to file a complaint. This is then forwarded to the cell. A complainant can also send a copy of the application to the Cyber Crime Cell at Mohali.
“Cybercrime police stations need a fully-trained workforce and we have brought the matter to the notice of our seniors several times in the past,” says a police officer.
The SSP of a district in Malwa says a computer is both the tool and the target of cybercriminals. “So, we need trained manpower, specialising in diverse fields of IT, like the use of RAM (random access memory), stored and volatile data on computers, iPads, mobile phones and the Internet.”
He points out that one of the biggest challenges being faced in digging the truths of IT crime is the use of ‘mule’ phones and ‘mule’ accounts in banks. These are created making use of Aadhaar cards or other personal information details gathered from common people, mostly the poor, by giving them ‘some money’. These accounts are used for committing crime and the culprit cannot be traced even if the crime is detected.
“To start with, we are training our teams to identify cases of data theft, cyber stalking, hacking, virus attack, web pornography, e-mail threat, obscene mails, credit card frauds, Internet and lottery frauds as well as Facebook-related abuse. The staff are also being educated about the legal provisions for filing cases.”
The Cyber Crime Cell of Punjab Police, incidentally, bagged the first prize at the national conference of the State Cyber Nodal Officers organised by the National Crime Records Bureau (New Delhi). The cell had in July 2022 arrested three Nigerians using profile pictures and names of VVIPs on WhatsApp to dupe government officials and other people.
This achievement, though laudable, cannot hide the overall lack of preparedness to deal with cybercrime in the state.
ROHIT, an IT professional from Gurugram, was looking for a job when he stumbled upon an online work-from-home opportunity through a link sent by one of his friends. He was offered a remote job in an “MNC”. After getting the job offer, he was asked to give bank details for crediting his salary/incentives. He was asked to pay one-time charges (administration/processing fee) of $2,000 (nearly Rs 1.65 lakh) which he paid through his credit card. When he noticed something suspicious, he reported the matter to the cybercrime police station, which acted promptly. The paid amount was put “on hold”, saving him from the online fraud.
Top cybercrimes in Haryana
- Fraud through impersonation and identity theft
- Cyber loan frauds
- Sextortion frauds
- Jobs frauds — work from home/remote employment
- Cyber stalking/bullying
This year, seven cybercrime cases, on an average, have been registered (1,761 till September) and five persons arrested daily (1,272 till September) in Haryana. The figures for 2022 were 2,165 cases (six daily) and 1,078 arrests (three daily). The data denotes a quantum jump from 414 cases and 300 arrests in 2021.
We are working on
A strategy with telecom companies to enhance efforts to track down cyber-criminals. Banks have been asked to link mobile numbers provided in the Aadhaar cards with bank accounts. Shatrujeet Kapur, DGP, Haryana
With a spurt in the number of cases of online fraud and deception, the Haryana Police are reframing strategy. OP Singh, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Cyber Crime, says the focus is on creating infrastructure to tackle cybercrime and training personnel.
Haryana currently has a network of 29 cyber police stations, equipped with infrastructure such as call detail record analysis/Internet protocol analysis (CDR/IPDR) tools.
A 24X7 Cyber Crime Helpline Call Centre (1930), which has been set up to register complaints, has been integrated with the State Emergency Helpline (112). A cyber forensic lab has been set up at Panchkula to help in the investigation.
“The need-based training of police personnel, especially investigating officers (IOs), is high on the agenda. There’s an annual training calendar with courses like cybercrime investigation, cyber forensics, cyber intelligence and digital crime scene handling being initiated. So far, 2,662 police personnel have been trained in cybercrime investigation this year. In fact, Cycord, a Central government online training portal, is extensively used to train Haryana Police personnel,” says Singh.
Spread across Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the Mewat region has emerged as a hub of cybercriminals, and Nuh as the hotspot. The Haryana Police have set up a State Cyber Crime Coordination Centre at Gurugram to coordinate with other states and Central agencies to tackle cybercrime. Rampant unemployment in Mewat and backwardness are being cited as the key reasons for the largely “unorganised criminal activity” taking firm root in the region. Earlier this year, the police had busted a Rs 100-crore racket in Nuh. Nearly 28,000 persons from across India had been duped.
As many as 66 suspected fraudsters were arrested in raids across 320 locations in 14 villages of Nuh even as scores of suspected cybercriminals are still on the run.
Officials lay stress on formulating a holistic approach to deal with the challenge. This, they say, involves the collaboration of all stakeholders, especially the public. With that in mind, the Haryana Police plan to deploy artificial intelligence and machine learning (AIML) to proactively identify and block mule accounts. Collaboration with telecom companies and banks to block dubious mobile numbers and suspicious transactions is being put to use extensively.
Timely reporting of suspected fraud is of paramount importance. The police claim to have put an amount of Rs 45.67 crore “on hold” in the first nine months of the year.
Keep this in mind
- Avoid clicking or downloading attachments from unknown emails
- Be wary of unexpected emails requesting personal information
- Enable two-factor authentication for financial transactions
- Be mindful of sharing private information on social media and adjusting privacy settings
- Be cautious of friend requests from unknown individuals
- Make online purchases from authentic websites
- Use strong and unique passwords
- Regularly review credit card transactions
LITTLE did a retired government official from Rohru realise that a call on his phone would create such upheaval in his life. He regrets the day he fell prey to a honey trap, leaving him mentally traumatised and his bank balance drained by a whopping Rs 1.07 crore. The first call came in May 2022 when he befriended a woman and started talking to her on video calls on a frequent basis. He was made a victim of a sextortion racket being run outside the state. Having deposited Rs 1.07 crore in 28 different accounts, he decided to put an end to his trauma by contacting the cybercrime police in August last year. Not only did the calls end, but the cops managed to recover Rs 15 lakh.
A Shimla resident, similarly, ended up losing Rs 80 lakh after being lured with the promise of a job abroad.
Himachal Pradesh has seen a huge spike in cybercrime complaints. As per the cybercrime cell of the state police, 23,523 complaints have been registered in the past seven years, nearly 20,000 in the past four years alone.
We are laying thrust on capacity-building and manpower training. We are in the process of setting up high-tech laboratories to be able to crack cases of cybercrime. Sanjay Kundu, DGP, Himachal Pradesh
Like other states, Himachal witnessed a sudden surge in cybercrime during the Covid pandemic. The number of such cases more than doubled from 1,638 in 2019 to 3,843 in 2020. This worrisome trend showed a dip post-Covid when the cases fell from 5,504 in 2021 to 3,630 in 2022. However, the respite has been shortlived. An exceptionally high number of cybercrime complaints (6,839) have been reported till date this year.
Senior police officials attribute the sudden spike to the increased digital transactions and use of Internet and mobile phones. Cyber fraudsters are mostly in the age group of 18-35 years and apprehending them is turning out to be a difficult task as they operate from unidentified locations. As a result, FIRs have been registered only for around 3 per cent of the total complaints received by the cyber cell.
“We are seized of the problem of rising cybercrime,” says Director General of Police Sanjay Kundu. “Three cybercrime police stations have been opened at Shimla, Mandi and Dharamsala. We are laying thrust on capacity-building and manpower training. We are in the process of setting up high-tech laboratories to be able to crack cases of cybercrime.”
Even as a new trend of using Artificial Intelligence apps to clone the voices of acquaintances is adding to the sudden surge in cybercrime cases in the hill state, it is the widening scope of the Rs 2,300-crore crypto currency cases which is giving anxious moments to the police.
While the majority of cybercrime cases is that of financial fraud, a plethora of complaints has also been received regarding crime against women such as morphing, creating fake profiles, sextortion and blackmailing.
Rohit Malpani, Superintendent of Police, Cyber Crime, says, “We have well-trained staff and the required equipment to deal with cybercriminals. There is a shortage of manpower but with the available resources, we have managed to work efficiently. Training is being imparted in regular intervals to conduct investigations in cybercrime cases. Apart from that, we have been sensitising people about the potential threat of cybercrime and how they can save themselves from falling prey.” Malpani says there has been a significant increase in digital transactions, including in rural areas, but the lack of digital literacy is stark.
The current challenge, he adds, is the multi-crore crypto currency scam. “A special investigation team has been constituted and it is doing its job well.”
Meanwhile, complaints in the multi-crore crypto currency scam in the state keep pouring in amid alleged involvement of police officials. Two masterminds have been apprehended from Gujarat while another kingpin is believed to have absconded to a foreign location.
Questions are being raised as to how a scam that dates back to 2018 kept flourishing right under the nose of the police department and the first FIR was lodged only last month when the matter was apparently raised by the Dehra Independent MLA in the Vidhan Sabha. A 13-member SIT was constituted after Deputy Chief Minister Mukesh Agnihotri issued directions. Abhishek Dullar, DIG, Northern Range, is heading the SIT. In this ponzi-style, multi-level marketing scam, people were lured with maximum returns on their investments in Korvio crypto currency coins. The perpetrators gave handsome returns on investments to the people who had joined initially and later duped investors of crores. As per police records, the scam is worth Rs 2,300 crore and lakhs of investors may have been duped.
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