Amit Sahay’s worst nightmare came true when someone hacked into his Facebook account and started posting pornographic content. Amit first warned his friends and then tried changing his password. But when the hacking persisted, he was forced to get a new account. Amit’s ordeal, however, is not an isolated case.
There is a new criminal in town and his victims are growing exponentially.
Every sixth cybercrime in India is committed through social media, Alok Mittal, the chief of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has said.
Though he did not divulge the basis of his findings, data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show around 70% rise in cybercrimes annually between 2013 and 2015.
In comparison, theft and robbery, which account for the highest incidences of crime in India, show an annual growth of 17-18%.
A cybercrime is defined in India as any unlawful act where a computer is used as a tool or target or both and offenders are booked under the Information Technology Act. However, according to the government’s own admission in Parliament in July, the rate of conviction is very low till now.
“The number of cybercrime cases reported across India in 2014 was a little more than 9,600, a mere fraction of the estimated three lakh theft cases (that year). But the concern is an annual growth of 70% for the last three years,” Mittal said. In 2013, the number was 5,693. Estimates for 2015 put the number of cybercrimes at 16,000.
Cyber experts said high rate of cyber crime is natural in a country where technology adoption is high but awareness is low.
“Most of cyber crime emanates is targeted towards people with social media accounts since in India knowledge about security and privacy protection is low,” said Mrityunjay Kapoor, head of risk analysis at KPMG.
For Amit, a Bengaluru-based florist, the hacking of his FB account was “scary”.
“Whoever hacked my account was putting me in a socially awkward situation and was trying to malign my identity,” he said.
According to experts, economic fraud tops the list of cybercrimes in India.
“Lottery and job scams are rampant. It has taken the form of organised crime in India,” said Mittal.
Papri Das almost fell into a trap when she started receiving emails purportedly from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), pointing out “tax irregularities” and asking her to pay her outstanding taxes.
“I thought I was in trouble and took the mail seriously. I went back to check my tax filings and had nearly made up my mind to pay the remaining taxes as mentioned in the mail,” Das said. Only when she discussed with friends and read an RBI advisory against such frauds that she blocked the mail ID.
Mittal said frauds through matrimonial sites were also rising in the past few years. Gangs look for vulnerable women picking on divorced or single women as targets.
“Organised financial crime was a feature of east European and former USSR countries. But with high internet user density and inadequate knowledge of net users, various cities in India are also becoming locations for perpetrating such crimes,” Mittal said.
In recent years, Noida has turned into a hub of cyber attacks in the national capital region.
With 780 cases of cybercrime reported in 2015, Noida saw the setting up of the Centre for Cyber Crime Investigation in 2016.
“This is a menace that will only increase with the rising number of internet users in India. Unless people learn to protect themselves, this cannot be controlled,” said Mittal.