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Living In The Times Of Crime

By Devangshu Datta
May 03, 2023 11:59 IST
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Redress for a victim is not easy. It is not really painful to file a cyber-crime complaint.
But someone who is technically unsophisticated enough to fall for a scam will find it hard to navigate the processes, points out Devangshu Datta.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Social media always turns toxic around festivals. This year, the yelling at Holi centred on a Web site that made a public service announcement requesting 'Safer and More Inclusive Spaces for Women'.

I spoke about this with a retired police officer. His take was that there's always been higher levels of sexual harassment (and other crimes) on Holi, and the police are always braced to deal with it.

Talking about it on social media is, however, a relatively new phenomenon.

Does focusing public attention on such an issue lead to improvements?

It should, though it may take a long time.

If there's a spotlight focused on a crime, or even on issues like poor public transport, or air pollution, politicians feel impelled to do 'something' about it because they believe it may influence votes.

That 'something' may not be immediately effective, but if the issue is never even acknowledged, it never gets better.

Another type of crime flows directly from social media and the Internet. That is cybercrime.

This is an increasing problem given the thrust on netbanking and digital payments.

Another friend (not a cop) recently took to social media to complain about a quality of service problem he had with netbanking.

The first three responses he received on Twitter were from fake accounts impersonating the bank where he's an account holder!

This sort of blatant scam occurs on a massive scale, and on a daily basis.

Scamsters, pretending to be from a bank or a fintech, blast out millions of daily messages, asking for 'something' to enable them to lift some cash from targeted individuals.

This might be a KYC update, with the would-be victim asked to fill in details on a fake website that looks almost exactly like the real Web site.

Or the scamster may ask recipients to 'update' their app, and direct them to download a fake app that looks almost exactly like the real app.

This is more sophisticated than other common scams where people are offered large sums to 'work from home'.

Plus, of course, there's 'social scammers' who call pretending to be from a bank and ask for passwords.

The point to this sort of shotgun approach is that it is cost effective. It has a minuscule strike rate.

Most people are suspicious. But one person in 10,000 might actually click on a poisoned link and it costs the scamsters very little to push out such messages to millions of people.

A clever scamster can disappear without trace after a successful sting.

Redress for a victim is not easy. It is not really painful to file a cyber-crime complaint. But someone who is technically unsophisticated enough to fall for a scam will find it hard to navigate the processes.

Anecdotally, elderly victims sometimes discover that they've been scammed online only long after their bank account has actually been cleaned out.

How do you deal with this?

Clearly, talking about the situation and thus creating widespread awareness must be part of the solution.

Indeed, banks, non-banking financial companies and fintechs do send out messages to account-holders, asking them not to hand over passwords and update KYCs.

But they need to take it several steps further in terms of publicising the issue. That's something no financial service provider wants to do, for fear it will scare off potential customers.

For example, everyone opening a new bank account, or a new fintech account, should receive mandatory warnings about not doing something silly that compromises their accounts.

This should be put out in large colourful fonts, with multilingual voice over.

Financial service providers should also be messaging regularly on social media about the common scams and how to avoid them.

Financial institutions also need to lobby authorities to make it easier to file cybercrime complaints.

For example, create videos to walk victims through the filing process. Side by side, they should, of course, explore ways to make it more difficult for criminals.

But creating awareness and sensitising the potential victims is a strategy worth trying.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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Devangshu Datta
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