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‘Fraudsters use fear of the virus to effectively dupe people’: Maharashtra cyber police superintendent

During lockdown, especially in recent months, it is fear of the coronavirus that fraudsters have effectively used to cheat people. In normal times, it is the attraction of getting things at a discount or for free that leads to people being duped.

Written by Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai |
Updated: May 16, 2021 6:21:26 pm
‘Fraudsters use fear of the virus to effectively dupe people’Apart from this, now that majority of purchases are made online, several websites have sprung up that claim to sell everyday items and clothes on discount. Here too, once the payment is made, fraudsters stop responding. (Representational Image)

Last week, pharmaceutical company Cipla approached the state cyber cell to register a case as several persons claiming to be Cipla distributors, were allegedly cheating people by promising them medicines like remdesivir and tocilizumab used in Covid-19 treatment.

State cyber superintendent of police SANJAY SHINTRE spoke to MOHAMED THAVER about cybercrime cases that have surfaced during the pandemic. Excerpts from an interview:

What kind of cases are you seeing during lockdown imposed due to Covid-19?

During the second wave, especially, cyber criminals, who are aware of the massive demand for medicines like remdesivir, are using it to their advantage by cheating people. We have got several cases where fraudsters put up links on WhatsApp groups, Facebook promising these medicines at cheap rates.

Once payment has been made, in most cases, they either stop answering phone calls or use water to fill up vials claiming it to be remdesivir. We registered a case earlier this week after Cipla too got complaints that fraudsters were using their name to cheat people.

We have also registered several cases against people spreading misinformation about Covid-19 on social media.

Are people more vulnerable to cyber crime during lockdown?

During lockdown, especially in recent months, it is fear of the coronavirus that fraudsters have effectively used to cheat people. In normal times, it is the attraction of getting things at a discount or for free that leads to people being duped.

Now in some cases, however, people are worried that they may need remdesivir; they click on links offering it at cheap rates and have made payments. The desperation has also pushed people to look at any means necessary to procure these medicines that have, on occasion, resulted in them being duped by fraudsters.

Apart from this, now that majority of purchases are made online, several websites have sprung up that claim to sell everyday items and clothes on discount. Here too, once the payment is made, fraudsters stop responding.

What are the efforts by Maharashtra cyber to stop such offences?

When it comes to cyber crime, awareness is key. We have been using our social media presence, like on Twitter, to ensure that people are aware of the different methods used by fraudsters to cheat people. Whenever there is a particular method where several people have been cheated, we create an alert so that people become aware.

Apart from that, we are also conducting investigations in cases that we have registered, like in the Cipla case, so that we can nab those involved.

In January, the city got five new cyber police stations. How has the response been?

Now, we have 45 cyber police stations across the state that have helped people lodge complaints directly. We have seen a good response as people don’t have to travel long distances and can approach these police stations locally to get FIRs filed.

In fact, we have also encouraged people to lodge complaints online as well and our police stations respond to them to ensure social distancing.

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