We the Voters: Victims of cyber crimes want parties to take up digital scams as poll issue | Pune News | #cybercrime | #infosec

Seventy three-year-old Laxmi Road resident Harsha Shah was approached by a friend who wanted to donate some furniture to an orphanage and requested her to look for a good deal. Luckily, around that time she received a message on Facebook messenger from Sujit Kumar, an officer in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), informing her that he was posted at the Talegaon Dabhade and that he has been transferred abruptly to West Bengal so he would have to get rid of the furniture. He also sent her pictures of that furniture, and bills of the furniture. At the same time, she received a message from the then Pune District Collector’s on the same platform vouching for the Kumar’s character and the quality of the product.

Not surprisingly, by the end of that day, she had lost Rs 15,000. Since she didn’t know how to use online banking, she asked different people to deposit the amounts in the fraudster’s account and pay them in cash. She later learnt that the photos sent to her of the furtniture being loaded in a tempo as well as the Facebook account of the collector were fake.

She then went through the usual drill of going to the police station, being turned away and the reluctance to get the complaint registered. She finally manage to get it registered but nothing has moved since.
Shah, who is a railway commuter activist of considerable renown, felt that there’s very little hope for any action or recovery in cases of cyber fraud, especially if the amount is not large.

“The situation is so dire. I had to run around so much to file the complaint and I was told, unofficially, that since the amount wasn’t big – although Rs 15,000 is big for me – very little can happen because of the high volume of cases,” said Shah.

When asked if she thinks that the growing number of cybercrimes and the lack of systems to fight them should be an election issue, she said, “Absolutely! Not only have I suffered, but there are many others I know have lost money due to cyber fraud. Also, I haven’t heard any political party talking about this major issue,” she said.

Festive offer

Cyber crimes and financial fraud have seen an exponential increase in recent years. In 2023, the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal (NCCRP) recorded 11.28 lakh complaints such cases. Maharashtra has the second largest tally with 1,25,153 complaints in 2023, only followed by Uttar Pradesh which registered 1,97,547 complaints of financial cyber fraud. As per sources in Pune Police, in 2023 Pune city Police received around 22,000 complaints of cyber financial crimes – an average of around 1,500-2,000 per month – of which 10-15 per cent were converted into FIRs.

In addition, economic offences involving investment schemes, ponzi schemes and share trading scams have also been on the high, with each case leading to the cheating of dozens, and even hundreds of individuals. In 2022, 18,729 cases of economic offences were registered in Maharasthra and 1,023 cases in Pune. The data for 2023 is not available yet.

Victims of financial fraud feel the country needs systemic changes to meet the challenge put forth by scams enabled by technology.

Sachin Pawar (39), is one among 270 victims of the Ashtavinayak Investment’s ‘profile investment’ scam. In this scam, victims – most of whom were IT professionals – were lured to take multiple personal loans and then invest the funds in the firm with a promise of 5 % to 10 % returns. The perpetrator of the scam shut the company and absconded in February 2023, leaving all his investors in the lurch.

“We have been following the investigation very closely and I got to know so many loopholes that are in the systems – banking, law enforcement agencies, financial reporting bureaus – that the scamster exploited. They need to be fixed and I can see that no efforts are being taken for that,” said Pawar. After one of the victims of the fraud died by suicide, Pawar and other victims have come together to form a group that will help and guide victims of similar financial fraud.

He said that although the ‘profile investor’ scheme by Ashtavinayak is now exposed as fraud, there are several firms in Pune city itself that run the same scheme and no action is taken against them.

“As a voter I would want the government to take pro-active efforts to safeguard citizens from these frauds and put in systems that can help the victims in real life if someone falls for these scams. Setting up a dedicated agency which has its jurisdiction and expertise in digital technology and tracking, banking, accounting, and communication can be one of the answers to this growing menace,” said Pawar.

Another area of improvement that Pawar feels need to be addressed is the humiliation that victims are put through by investigating agencies.

“What victims of cyber fraud and financial scams need is understanding, support and quick action. What they face, however, is humiliation. ‘How could you have fallen for this!’ is the attitude of the police. We need investigators who understand how these things happen and that anyone can fall for a scam,” said Pawar.

© The Indian Express Pvt Ltd

First uploaded on: 29-04-2024 at 21:33 IST

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