A new resource centre to tackle rising cases of online crime and human trafficking became operational in Bhayander earlier this month. The centre is a collaboration of the Thane Rural Police and the International Justice Mission, an anti-trafficking organisation.
The Police Resource Centre for Online Crimes was opened formally on November 15 after operating on a trial basis for a few months in the office of Atul Kulkarni, assistant superintendent of police, Bhayander division. During trials, it had also become a nerve-centre for planning police raids on bars and hotels in the Mira-Bhayander stretch that employ minors and traffic women.
“The centre was formed four months ago because the detection rate for cyber cases was very low. We are now able to concentrate only on these cases and deliver results,” said Assistant Police Inspector Navnath Lahange, who heads the unit. He added that most cases referred to his team are those where individuals lose money from their bank accounts after providing One-Time Passwords to fraudsters over the phone.
During the trial, the centre busted a WhatsApp group dedicated to circulating child pornography after a whistleblower approached the police. The centre raided a call centre operating illegally in Bhayander that was allegedly duping American citizens. Most recently, it arrested two men suspected of siphoning off crores after fitting skimmers on ATM machines in Bhayander.
Nawal Bajaj, Special Inspector General of Police, Konkan region, said the decision to approach the IJM was taken due to the vast number of resources at their disposal. “This resource centre will serve a nerve-centre for all sex trafficking cases handled by Anti Human Trafficking Units and local police stations in the Konkan region and will also be a space where data related to trafficking will be documented for analytical and reporting purposes,” he said.
A room in Kulkarni’s office, which previously housed a toilet, has been converted into the centre and is manned by four police personnel and private cyber experts called in to work on specific cases.
IJM has also set up a library of legal books and case laws, which they expect will assist the police in opposing bail applications of traffickers.
“In cases of cyber fraud, we contact nodal officers of phone companies to obtain call data records. We also contact social media firms to block and take down fake profiles. In many instances, we have managed to recover money that people have lost after contacting the e-wallet to which the money was transferred by the fraudsters,” said Lahange.
As part of the centre’s ongoing progress, IJM experts will also train police personnel in data collection, analysis, and investigative methods, apart from providing a software that will allow centralisation of data on sex trafficking cases. Joanita Britto, a consultant with IJM, said the centre is seen as a model that can be replicated elsewhere in the country.