Coronavirus pandemic | Battling infections, Maharashtra sees a spike in cyber crime during lockdown

In Maharashtra, cyber-crime cases have gone up by 20 to 25 percent in two weeks of lockdown, officials say.

Published: Apr 7, 2020
Cybercrime Image: Shutterstock

Free Netflix, cheap internet or an unemployment allowance—these are some of the tricks criminals are using to break into phones and steal data, with phishing and other cyber-crimes recording a huge jump as more people turn to the Net during the lockdown.

In its third week, the 21-day nationwide lockdown has been ordered to break the chain of coronavirus infections, which have risen to 4,421 with 114 deaths. The order for people to stay in has seen banks and all other service providers working with skeletal staff and customers are using the internet to pay bills, transfer money and even consult doctors.

“In this lockdown period, phishing and scamming of account cases have increased manifold. In Maharashtra alone, such cases have increased by to 25 percent in the last two weeks,” a senior officer in Maharashtra cyber crime department told Moneycontrol on condition of anonymity.

Maharashtra has the most coronavirus cases in the country with 748 confirmed infections.

“…phishing cases are also at peak during this period and many complaints have been filed against it on our website,” Bal Sing Rajput, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Cyber-Crime, Maharashtra, told Moneycontrol.

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Phishing comes in various forms. Such messages try to induce recipients to enter passwords or other sensitive information on websites controlled by the hackers, who then use the data to take control of bank, email or other accounts.

Ashish Singh* would know. He works with one of the largest private banks in the country and his experience helped him recently dodge a phishing expedition.

“This mail almost convinced me about the latest transaction in my account and urged me to download a statement to check who has sent money in my account. Thankfully, I was aware of balance in my account and account number mentioned in the mail, which did not belong to me and thereby did not download the attachment,” Singh told Moneycontrol.

More people were using internet-based applications, so phishers were active and attacking them with various lucrative schemes to steal data from phones, including contact details and other sensitive data, another official said.

It was hard to track the criminals as they were based overseas or some other remote location or were using the dark web, the official said, requesting anonymity.

It's fake

Not just phishing, the cyber crime department has its hands full as rumours, fake news and hate speech spread about coronavirus through social media apps. The department is screening WhatsApp messages, Facebook, Instagram stories, Telegram posts and also Tik Tok videos.

In Maharashtra, more than a hundred cases have been registered and another three dozen individuals were being watched, sources said.

Sixty-five cases have been registered for spreading rumours, fake news and sharing hate messages on WhatsApp about COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, sources said.

Eleven cases have been filed for trying to spread panic through Facebook and three against users of the popular video-sharing app Tik Tok. Another 19 cases have been filed against users of other social media channels.

“We are presently cracking down heavily on fake news, rumours and hate speeches through various technology tools. People are spreading rumours about various medicines which are useful in treating coronavirus or sending messages which may hurt communal sentiments of the state such cases are also under scrutiny,” Rajput said, as he promised stern action against the perpetrators.

Fake news and vishing had multiplied across Maharashtra, said Prashant Mali, a cyber-law expert who practices in the Bombay High Court.

Vishing is phishing through voice calls. Criminals try to extract sensitive personal information through phone calls by claiming to be a representative of a bank or financial institution.

“Fake news is killing citizens emotionally, vishing is killing people financially while COVID-19 killing with corona disease. I appeal to people not to answer calls from banks, credit cards or Insurance companies during this stressful situation," Mali said.

While traditional crime was down but cyber-crime was escalating. “All state governments are tackling this challenging issue,” said another official.

(* name changed to protect identity)

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