Jharkhand emerges hotbed of low-tech cyber crimes

State's Jamtara district is one of India's biggest organised cyber crime hubs, with one police station alone accounting for over 50% of ATM, and debit/credit card frauds

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The average literacy rate in Jamtara, a predominantly tribal district in Jharkhand, is around 65 per cent, much lower than the national average of 74 per cent. Yet, the people here are surprisingly tech-savvy.

A recent document on an awareness drive by the Election Commission notes, “Telecommunication penetration is relatively higher (despite poor signal and connectivity problems with BSNL) in Jamtara than other means of communication like television and print media.”

Jamtara is one of the biggest centres of organised cyber crime in India. The Karmatar police station in Jamtara alone accounts for more than 50 per cent of fraud related to ATMs and debit and credit cards, according to the police.

“We have no clue why Karmatar is such a big centre for cyber crime. A police official from one state or another is always present here, working on an investigation related to cyber crime,” says Ramesh Kumar Dubey, deputy commissioner, Jamtara.

“It is not uncommon to find people here operating laptops on the roadside. They could be just making fraudulent money transfers. We have arrested hundreds of people, mostly between 20 and 30 years of age, who have taken this up as a profession. As per our estimates, close to 150 gangs are involved in developing cyber fraud as an industry,” he adds.

The number of cyber crimes in India almost doubled between 2013 and 2015. According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, nearly 5,693 cases of cyber crime were recorded in 2013, which climbed to 11,331 in 2015.

Jharkhand emerges hotbed of low-tech cyber crimes “Cyber crimes are mostly bailable offences. Also scamsters often go scot-free for lack of evidence. There is also a shortage of investigating officers as only inspectors and above are allowed to investigate cyber crimes,” says Mukesh Choudhary, a cyber security expert.
According to Triveni Singh, additional superintendent of police with Uttar Pradesh’s cyber crime special task force, while cyber fraud training has emerged as a cottage industry in Jamtara, it is a flourishing trade in the national capital region.

“The police are unable to track the culprits as all the documentation, be it SIM or Internet connection, is fake. When police go to the spot, there is hardly anyone there to arrest. One needs to track things like sudden surge in purchasing habits to track the culprits,” says Singh. If experts are to be believed, it takes not more than four days to master cyber fraud in one of the training centres at Jamtara. The cost of the training is Rs 7,000-10,000. Tutorials involve training people to make fake phone calls, mostly in the guise of a bank employee, and seeking information like the CVV or ATM pin for urgent account verification. This is followed by prompt transfer of money into one’s own account.

One can get hold of a SIM card or Internet connection without proper documentation for Rs 400-500, according to police officials. Over the last two years, cyber crimes have become more advanced, involving newer forms of social engagements like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. The recent fraud involving 3.2 million debit cards compromised by a malware attack reveals the potential threat from such scams.

“We are increasingly seeing cases of debit or credit card cloning. Hackers send malware through SMS or email and once a link is clicked all the files are encrypted. Subsequently, hackers send ransom messages demanding payment for decryption through Bitcoin,” says Singh. “Hackers have adopted new methods. Earlier they would ask for the CVV or ATM pin. Now, they often obtain information like credit or debit card numbers through data leaks. The only number they don’t have is the CVV or ATM pin, which people often provide after all the verification,” says Mukesh Choudhary, a cyber crime expert. One of the earliest avatars of cyber crime originated in Nigeria, where scamsters sought payments by hacking email accounts. According to police officials, while the local cyber fraud industry has evolved, so has the Nigerian cyber crime machinery. They, too, have adopted newer ways to dupe people, mostly through social networking sites.

Experts have also come across a number of frauds targeting exporters. An unidentified malware, which works in stealth, creates filters that keep the exporter in the dark about emails being from their accounts. Sitting miles away, the scammers successfully divert payments to their accounts rather than the original buyer, according to Choudhary.

Frauds involving an advance fee are known as 419 AFF (advance-fee fraud) crimes. This is different from the localised cyber crime industry in Jamtara, which mostly involves fraudulent transactions after obtaining pin numbers. While there is no recent data on the extent of such frauds, a 2014 report by Ultrascan Advanced Global Investigations, states there were 49 AFF scam rings in India with 1,610 active members, the fifth highest in the world. Unlike the Jamtara scamsters, these wings are spread across states.

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