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One year of Covid: Crime gets a digital upgrade in face of pandemic

Cyber-crime in Pune city witnessed a spurt during the lockdown months, as online transactions, due to fear of the virus spreading through surfaces, increased
By Shalaka Shinde
PUBLISHED ON MAR 09, 2021 01:01 PM IST

Cyber-crime in Pune city witnessed a spurt during the lockdown months, as online transactions, due to fear of the virus spreading through surfaces, increased. Vegetable vendors accepting payments through online transactions - once advertised as a hopeful future - became par for the course.

The year of lockdown was as disturbing as unprecedented for a multitude of reasons.

Multiple sectors like health, pharmaceutical, online payment and grocery service providers witnessed a spurt in the user-base… and in their misuser base. The effect was seen directly in the inbox meant for cybercrime-related complaints of the Pune police.

“Compared to 2019, the number of complaints more than doubled in 2020,” recalls Bhagyashree Navatake, deputy commissioner of police, Cybercrime and Economic Offence Wing (EOW) of the Pune police.

DCP Navatake, a software engineer by qualification, took office in October 2020, after movement restrictions started getting curtailed.

As a result of the increased case load and changed leadership, staff strength has increased, and new units were introduced at the EOW and cybercrime cell.

“Forming these units has helped us streamline the disposal of the huge number of pending cases. We have started a three-month training module for all officials of the cyber cell. Outside, as well as in-house experts, are called in to explain the basics to staff who have come from various backgrounds. This upskilling is the need of the hour,” said DCP Navatake.

With the beginning of vaccination, the cyber-crime cell has started receiving complaints of frauds under the guise of providing vaccines.

In the past few months, patient data of at least three hospitals was wrongfully used in fraud cases.

In comparison to cyber-crime, registration of crimes like property theft, assault, and crimes against women decreased.

During peak lockdown, there were days when the number of criminal cases registered in Pune city - with a population of at least a million people - was zero; a phenomenon unheard of.

The number of registered cases of women who died within seven years of their marriage has remained near-constant for the past three years; lockdown could did not affect that statistic.

While elaborate property crimes decreased, sporadic cases of theft of cash at pharmacies and grocery stores, the only two kinds of stores permitted to function during lockdown - were reported.

Cybercrime

From 5,523 complaint applications in 2018, the number of complaint applications jumped to 7,795 in 2019, and in 2020, 14,950 complaint applications were received by Pune city cybercrime cell. The largest contributors to these applications have been online fraud – involving dating, cheating, banking, and matrimonial cases; followed by social media-related cases, business-related online cases, hacking cases, and mobile phone-related offences.

Online frauds jumped from 4,741 in 2019 to 8,824 in 2020; social media cases increased from 828 in 2019 to 2,174 in 2020; business-related cases increased from 636 in 2019 to 1,269 in 2020; hacking incidents increased from 113 in 2019 to 314 in 2020; and complaint applications about frauds committed using mobile phones increased from 88 in 2019 to 488 in 2020, according to records maintained by the cybercrime cell of Pune city police.

Dowry-related deaths

Section 304(b) of Indian Penal Code is invoked against the in-laws of a woman married for less than seven years, who dies due to dowry demands.

In 2019, 16 such cases were registered in Pune city while 20 cases were registered in 2020.

In 2018, 19 such cases were registered while 20 cases were registered in 2017.

Theft

The collective number of different kinds of thefts, including house break-ins, chain snatching, mobile theft, and pick-pocketing, among others, was halved from 3,034 in 2019 and 3,544 in 2018, to 1,561 in 2020.

The complete lockdown ensured no physical access to hotspots where such crimes were committed, and the looming fear of the virus was palpable in Pune which was one of the hotspots for the Covid19 infection.

Vehicle theft

Another notable decline was in the vehicle theft cases. In the first six months of 2020, of which three months were under lockdown, the number of vehicle theft cases reported was 300, as against 1,000 in the first six months of 2019.

Cases declined from 1,676 in 2019, to 975 in 2020.

Murder

The year of the lockdown, however, did not affect the number of murder cases in Pune city. With 74 cases in 2019, the number of murder cases in 2020 was 71.

One of the most violent murders during the lockdown months was that of Viraj Jagtap (20) a Dalit youth who was killed in Sangvi by the family members of a girl he was allegedly romantically interested in.

Illegal possession and consumption of alcohol

Under the Maharashtra Prohibition Act which prohibit possession or consumption of alcohol without required permits, increased in 2020.

From 1,127 in 2019, registered cases went up to 1,243 in 2020.

While the rush at liquor shops immediately after they were allowed to open was telling, the cases of theft at liquor shops just before the lockdown rules were brought into effect were also reported

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