Gangs using social media to extort money from parents of missing kids

  • Faizan Haidar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 28, 2016 16:36 IST
Data tabled in the Lok Sabha recently revealed that in the past three years more than 22,000 children went missing in Delhi. (Hindustan Times)

Parents of a 13-year-old girl from Jharkhand, who has been missing for the past two months, thought they got lucky when they received a call from someone claiming he knows where their daughter is. But for that they will have to deposit money through e-wallet.

Sensing trouble, the father of the girl approached an NGO that contacted the police suspecting it might be a ploy to extort money from the girl’s father.

The fears turned out to be true. The person who had called up the girl’s father was caught in Chennai and he confessed that he collected the details of missing children through social media and contacted their parents to extort money.

So, the next time you share details of a missing children on social media to help the family, think twice, as it can easily be misused. NGOs working in the field of child welfare say that they have noticed a trend in which criminals are gathering details of families of missing children through social media. They blackmail the families by telling them that they know the whereabouts of the kid and extort money from them.

“In Delhi, where majority of population use social media, it is easy to get the detail of parents. Our timeline is flooded with photos of missing children and we often share it with the contact details. But this trend is dangerous and police must raise awareness among parents to deal with it,” said Rishikant, an activist with the Shakti Vahini NGO.

Data tabled in the Lok Sabha recently revealed that in the past three years more than 22,000 children went missing in Delhi. 9,000 are yet to be traced. Every year, more than 7,000 children go missing and 1,500 of them remain untraced in Delhi -- the second highest in the country after Maharashtra. Many of them are never found.

Activists say that most of the missing children are trafficked by organised gangs which push them into a life of bonded labour in big cities or in Gulf countries. Girls are mostly forced into prostitution; many of them sent to villages with poor sex ratio and married off to men twice their age.

“The intention behind sharing details of missing children might be good but one needs to be careful now. In such cases, details of local police station and control room should be given and the parents must contact police if someone approached them claiming they have the details of children,” Rishikant said.

Case Study

Ram Singh, a factory worker in Sohna, Gurgaon, has spent over R 2 lakh in a month to find his son who disappeared on April 3. Singh said he received calls from unknown numbers, who tell him to meet religious leaders and pay them money to get his child back.

So apart from scouring places such as railway stations, bus stops, temples and mosques to find his son, Singh has also paid money to several people who had promised him to reunite him with his son. In Singh’s case, criminals have not only exploited him through his contact details on the social media but also from the posters that he has pasted across the city with his son’s photo in order to get a clue about him.

“My son went out with friends but never returned. I lodged a police complaint but till now I haven’t received any relief. Every morning I go out looking for my son. I hope, one day he will return home,” Singh said.

In Haryana, more than 3,700 children have remained untraced in the past three years and like Singh, most of the victims are workers who have come to Delhi in search of a livelihood. He doesn’t have any other source of income as he has stopped going to the factory. He says that he has taken too much loan to pay those who had promised him clues about his son.

A social worker said there are many like Singh who don’t think twice before agreeing to pay money to those who promise them to tell the whereabouts of their missing kids.

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