A week ago, a young couple lodged a complaint at the Nepal Police Cybercrime Bureau. In the complaint, while stating that they have been in a relationship for some time, they mentioned that a third person was threatening them by sending intimate pictures.
Soon after receiving the complaint, the bureau started investigating the technical aspect of the case and side by side to find how the photos were leaked.
During the investigation, it was revealed that the pictures were sent by none other than her own boyfriend, who came to file that complaint along with the lady. The bureau arrested that man as all the facts and details showed his involvement in this case, but the woman could not believe her eyes even when he was handcuffed.
According to the bureau, the incident mentioned is just one among several such examples. The number of cybercrime incidents has skyrocketed during the period of the lockdown and prohibitory order imposed to control the Covid-19 crisis. Interestingly, 95 per cent of these cases are linked to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, and email. Unlike in other forms of sexual violence, cybercrime has also targeted men.
SSP Nabinda Aryal at the bureau, who had also worked in the cyber branch of the Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police also, informs, “In the past, usually cases of data breaching and hacking used to come more. But, now, there are more complaints related to social media. Along with the rise of the number of social media users, its misuse has also increased.”
According to him, mainly, the number of cases of fraud through social media has increased. Likewise, the tendency of blackmailing by posting offensive photos on social media has also risen. During the prohibitory order alone, the bureau received 145 written complaints. At the same time, the bureau closed 2500 fake social media accounts.
Men at target
Earlier, most victims of cybercrime used to be women, but now, the number of male victims is also on the rise, reports the bureau. As per Aryal, many people especially those who are less educated and have very little knowledge of technology are being cheated by some gangs active on social media who have been texting those people that they had won the lottery.
Further, Aryal narrates a recent case in which the victim was a male. A few days ago, a young man came to the cyber bureau with a strange complaint.
A woman in her mid-20s had sent him a friend request on Facebook. In the beginning, there used to be normal conversations, but gradually they started to exchange personal issues.
Two weeks later, he was asked to send an intimate photo. He sent the picture without thinking much; the young lady also shared her intimate picture with him, but without showing her face. The next day, the lady started blackmailing him by showing the same picture. When he started having problems fulfilling her proposal, the youth took refuge in the bureau.
Officials of the bureau believe the use of social media has escalated during the lockdown because most people were confined to their homes only, which has increased cybercrime. Additionally, psychologist Karuna Kunwar shares most children and teenagers have been the target of recent cybercrime incidents.
“Every child has a mobile phone because of the need for online classes, meanwhile parents also don’t have time to monitor what their children are doing on mobile,” she informs, “Adolescents are sending requests to strangers with a hope to increase likes and reactions on their posts, and thus they are being victimised.”
On the other hand, Nepal Police SP Krishna Koirala asserts that the prohibitory order or lockdown alone should not be considered as a reason for the increase in cybercrime. “Especially with the aggressive access to technology, electronic crime is on the rise,” Koirala adds, “We have received a lot of complaints about fraud, especially through social media.”
Likewise, advocate Baburam Aryal, who is looking into cyber-related issues, shares that the cases of abuse are also coming to the surface as the e-commerce business has grown during the lockdown.
Police officials say that some people who are in trouble are afraid to go to the police as they fear that their privacy may be invaded. But, Aryal assures that maintaining the survivor’s privacy is their first priority.
“We have provided services to the citizens who are in trouble even on the basis of verbal complaints coming through the phone calls,” he informs, “Some people are afraid to speak, but after receiving complaints from emails and Messenger, it has become easier for them to speak with confidence and without any fear and hesitation.”
SSP Basanta Bahadur Kunwar, Nepal Police spokesperson, also adds the investigation into the cybercrime complaint is done keeping in mind the safety, dignity, and reputation of the survivor.
Further, he continues, “Since the matter is related to the investigating officer and the survivor, we are constantly instructing and monitoring what details should be made public and what not to. No one should be afraid that their personal privacy will be violated.”
Santosh Poudel, the director of the Nepal Telecommunications Authority, the country’s internet regulator, says, “First of all, we have to keep strong passwords of the social media accounts and also activate settings like two-factor authentication, and OTP.”
On the other hand, the central police spokesperson Kunwar suggests that one should not exchange private and family matters with any stranger on social media. He says, “The users should also be vigilant; otherwise the police alone can not make any difference.”
Similarly, according to Poudel, it is easier to retrieve social media accounts if they are out of reach, so it is always best to use a ‘recovery’ email and mobile number. Since every social network has a ‘privacy setting’, some things should be kept secret.
“As much as possible, you should not keep personal details like your home address or number,” he adds, “It is not appropriate to post details like where you are going, what you are doing, and who you are with on social media. You should not be tempted to win the lottery or any prize.”
The challenge of a 35-day limit
Police have been taking action against those arrested on the charge of cybercrime as per section 47 (1) of the Electronic Transactions Act, 2008. It says that the publication and display of materials that are prohibited by the prevailing law in electronic media including computers and the internet are not allowed.
Also, the act restricts the publication and display of any materials which may be against public morality or which may spread hatred or jealousy against someone or jeopardise the harmonious relations among people of various castes, tribes, and communities. If someone is found guilty of doing this, s/he will face a fine of up to Rs 100,000 or imprisonment for five years, or both.
But, there is a 35-day limit for filing a complaint. An investigation officer at the Cybercrime Bureau says, “The investigation requires details from social networking companies in different countries, a process that takes time. That’s the challenge for us.”