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Internet usage and cybercrime: Are WhatsApp, Facebook new scamming tools for fraudsters?

Internet usage and cybercrime: Are WhatsApp, Facebook new scamming tools for fraudsters?
According to a report, the first two months of 2022 witnessed more cybercrimes than what happened in the whole of 2018.


Harsh (name changed), a 23-year-old college goer, didn’t know what he was getting into when he accepted a Facebook friend request that displayed some mutual connections. After sharing some pleasantries, both exchanged WhatsApp numbers immediately. (Red flag no. 1) When Harsh asked more about the background of the “new friend” like the place of living, education, etc, the scammer, who identified as female, insisted on video calling. (Red flag no. 2) What could go wrong in a video call, right? Well, that’s what she said! The scammer disguised as a pretty friend screen-recorded the call, without consent, and uncovered half of her body! Harsh, who now came to sense that there is something fishy going on, got all scared and immediately cut the call. Within minutes he got an edited video from the fraudster that displayed Harsh in a bad light. The fraudster now started building pressure and asked for some money in return for “doing a favor” to the boy by not uploading the video on Youtube and other social media platforms where his “family, friends will see and be ashamed of it.”


Another incident happened with a 50-year-old school teacher, Gurpreet (name changed), who took an education loan from a state-run bank to send her daughter to a reputed college for higher studies. One fine afternoon, she received a call from a guy, who didn’t tell his name, claiming to be an “executive” from the same bank where she took borrowed money. The executive, who picked details like the date of birth and name of her daughter’s college on Facebook, tried to manipulate the lady by sharing even personal details like the date of account opening, and type of account and even knew that she was paying interest on the loan during the moratorium period. The scammer threatened that due to default in some interest payments, Gurpreet’s loan account will be suspended and no further installments will be disbursed by the bank unless she immediately tells him the account number and debit card pin. (Huge red flag)


Argh, do both the stories sound familiar? Maybe because such instances of cyberbullying and fraud along the same lines have happened with almost every person and increased usage of social networking platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Tinder, etc has further fuelled such crimes.


According to data by CERT-In, as read on Zee News, the first two months of 2022 witnessed more cybercrimes than what happened in the whole of 2018. Asia’s third-largest economy reported 2,08,456 cases in 2018 versus 2,12,485 incidents in the first two months of 2022. Online crimes are steadily increasing since 2018 and India reported 3,94,499 incidents of cyber crimes in 2019; 11,58,208 cases in 2020 and 14,02,809 cases in 2021. It is noteworthy that such frauds jumped almost five times during the pandemic when reliance on the internet and online media increased.


In a separate report, the number of internet users in the country has gone up to a whopping 658 million in 2022, which is roughly 47% of the total population of 1.40 billion. While 76.50% and 74.70% of the internet users have respectively enrolled on Instagram and Facebook, 81.20% of India’s total internet users use messaging platform WhatsApp, making these some of the most used social media platforms and in turn becoming a good tools for scammers to trap people. Such multinational tech giants also do not have very stringent safety policies to guard users against various scams.


With the constant rise in social media usage along with no sign of cybercrimes waning any time soon, India – as well as the rest of the world – needs to gear up and come out with a better safety net for what’s next.


In 2019, India’s federal government launched National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal on a pilot basis and later inaugurated the same in January 2020. NCRP is an initiative to facilitate cybercrime complaints online with a “special focus on crimes against women and children.” With this initiative, the government aims to better the coordination amongst various law enforcement agencies at the state as well as district levels for dealing with cybercrimes in a coordinated and effective manner.


Further, the Information Technology Act, of 2000 and the Indian Penal Code, of 1860 govern and penalise various cybercrimes. However, social stigma resulting in victim blaming to the notoriously slow judicial system of the country and ineffective implementation of existing laws makes them insufficient to cope with the wide range of cybercrimes that exist today.

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