Online crooks cloned the credit card of Sanjay Singhal and stole Rs 1.83 lakh in a matter of eight minutes in August, before he could get a grip of the 53 text messages alerting him about the transactions.
Much like the Mumbai-based former revenue officer, businesswoman Bhawana Katri of Gurgaon received five text alerts on her phone purchases worth Rs 40,000 on her credit card on May 29.
“I immediately called the bank. But it was late. I lost Rs 40,000 by then,” she said.
These thefts are among a spreading web of cyber frauds in the first six months of 2017, raising security fears over the government’s push for a digitised cashless economy after it scrapped two high-value banknotes to curb corruption and counterfeiting last November.
“Cybercrime has grown to an alarming extent since note ban,” said Pawan Duggal, cyber expert and Supreme Court lawyer.
“As a country we have failed to address the issue,” he added.
More than 27,000 cybercrimes were reported in first half 2017, according to data released by the information and technology ministry. The figure was 50,362 for the entire 2016 .
If the 2017 data were extrapolated for a year, it would be an almost 10% increase in cybercrime, highest in recent years. The average jump in the past three years stands below 1.5%.
After demonetisation, digital transactions went up from Rs 71.27 crore in October 2016 to Rs 123.5 crore in the two subsequent months.
The government too is aware of the growing crime and had issued 21 advisories for securing platforms of digital transactions such as ATM and credit cards and remitting payments by wire transfer.
Junior electronics and IT minister PP Chaudhary informed Parliament during the July-August monsoon session about the spurt in cyber frauds. But he said it was “like elsewhere in the world”.
Online frauds have grown exponentially across the globe and nondescript places such as the Ramnicu Valcea, dubbed Scamville, have become capitals for cybercriminals. Policing in the hitherto unpoliced internet has increased too, but the scammers are innovating, adapting and getting sneakier.
The fraud transactions on Singhal’s card were recorded in France, though he was in India at the time.
He said banks should block cards when they notice a flurry of transactions happening in quick succession.
Experts called for stringent laws. The government proposes an Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, named I4C.
“Almost all financial institutions, banks and online transactions are vulnerable to cybercrime. Digital wallets such as Paytm and BHIM, which gained prominence after demonetisation, were found unsafe during research,” an IIT Kanpur research says.
The fraudsters deploy various techniques and the most common is to lure gullible people into divulging personal details for online transactions. They raise false alarms about freezing bank accounts, or promise attractive earnings.
The majority of the frauds is related to phishing, wherein the caller or mailer purporting to be from a bank or a finance company seeks personal details and takes out money from the customer’s account with the data.
Pune and Noida reported more cyber frauds till July 2017 than the entire 2016. Complaints are high in Gurgaon and Mumbai too. These cities, packed with big private companies, are clear targets because people there make more card payments than, say, a mofussil town in Jharkhand.
But small towns are becoming India’s equivalent of Ramnicu Valcea. Young men, mostly semi-literate, are using the internet to get rich and out of the drudgery.
Places like Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh, Jamtara in Jharkhand and Katrisarai in Bihar have been identified as cybercrime hotspots. Conmen in Jharkhand floated a website promising quick returns and cheated people in Bengaluru.
“Tikamgarh is the latest from where hundreds of fraud phone calls are coming,” said Ashish Khare, additional inspector general with Madhya Pradesh’s special investigation team.
(With inputs from Sohil Sehran in Noida, Abhishek Behl in Gurgaon, Punya Priya Mitra in Bhopal, Vikram Gopal in Bangaluru, Haider Naqvi in Kanpur, Avinash Kumar in Patna, Shalaka Shivaji Shinde in Pune, Presley Thomas in Mumbai and Saurav Roy in Ranchi)