Into the dark webWith the spike in the number of internet users in Nepal, cybercrimes are also on the rise
One night, Saurav, a 26-year-old CA student in Kathmandu turned on his laptop and opened the video chatting application Skype. As is with most men in their twenties, he was interested in talking to new faces over the internet, and would often video chat with girls. That night, he got introduced to a lady from the Philippines, Liane, and after a few days of shy exchanges, their virtual relationship blossomed.
Over time as their bond strengthened, Saurav was so head-over-heels about Liane that he wouldn’t be able to sleep if he missed their daily chat sessions. Eventually, both Saurav and Liane started video chatting in the nude, and exchanging compromising photos over the internet. This would continue for over a month.
Saurav, at the time, considered himself fortunate to have found a partner in Liane and relished her intimacy. He even introduced her to his family and friends as his long-distance girlfriend.
Things, then, quickly went south.
One day, out of the blue, Liane demanded hundreds of dollars and threatened to upload all of his nude videos and photos on the internet if he failed to send the money to a bank in the Philippines. Stunned by Liane’s betrayal and horrified by her threats, Saurav was caught in a fix—unable to come to terms with what the societal repercussions would be. Two weeks ago, a nervous Saurav mustered up enough courage and showed up at the Metropolitan Police Crime Division (MPCD) in Teku, Kathmandu and filed a complaint against Liane.
Yet, Saurav is just an example. There are countless other similar cases that go unreported. A year ago, five well-educated Kathmandu residents, some of whom were enrolled in an MBBS programme, shared a similar ordeal with the MPCD. They filed complaints after being threatened by their online girlfriends with the uploading of sexual exchanges, in text, images or videos. Some of these ladies, like Liane, were from the Philippines, others from the USA and Hong Kong.
A spiking trend
Police teams investigating cybercrime in Nepal have confirmed that the rates of crimes on social media has significantly increased in the last few years. Investigators at the MPCD claim that these cases are often of an international stature. Police Inspector, Pashupati Ray, points out that some of the cybercrime victims were residing in Australia with the suspects operating out of the USA. Referring to the difficulties the MPCD faces when investigating such issues, Ray discloses that most of the complaints filed in Nepal are extended by the victim’s guardians rather than the victim themselves.
In the six months of the current fiscal year there have been as many as 361 reported cybercrimes, with most of these cases centralised in the Kathmandu Valley and in the Central Development Region. Spokesperson of the Nepal Police, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Madhav Joshi informs, “The case hearings on cyber-related issues, so far, are only conducted by the Kathmandu District Court. This may be the cause cyber crime is unrecorded in the mid-west and the far-west.” Police investigators confirm that they deal with as many as 20 cases related to cybercrimes on a daily basis. Around 300 victims filed reports with the MPCD during the last fiscal year. There were only 91 such cases reported in 2013-14 (2070-71 BS).
There are examples of other cases of organised cybercrime in Nepal, one of which is the one commonly known as the Nigerian 419 scam. The police reported that at least 38 people were affected by the scam within the last three years, and have arrested 16 people, including one Nigerian and two Pakistani nationals, on charges of the scam where fraudsters send text messages or emails congratulating the recipient on winning a lottery. “If the fraudster receives a response, they demand the recipient deposit money to banks in India. They promise the victims a large sum in prize money if they make a small up-front payment. After receiving this payment, the fraudster simply disappears by switching off their mobile phone, or continues to ask the victim to provide further fees,” informs Inspector Ray.
Naive new users
New trends in cybercrime emerge on a daily basis and have been accelerating rapidly. In the past, cybercrime was limited to a few individuals or small groups. Today, criminally-minded technology professionals are using the realm of cyberspace to commit highly innovative long-distance crimes that target naïve individuals who are familiar with the internet but are yet to become aware of its potential pitfalls.
Another factor that fuels cybercrime is the boom of internet usage through mobile phones. According to the Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA), 97 percent of the population in the Kathmandu Valley have access to the internet. Internet usage through mobile phones is available to 45.64 percent of the nation’s population as of mid-October 2015, rising from a mere 8.49 percent in 2011. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) experts credit the unprecedented increase of internet usage to the accelerating popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Communication Directorate of the Nepal Police, Rajib Subba confirmed that even people in the remote villages of Nepal are tech-savvy and use smart phones with internet connection. The Chief of the MPCD, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Savendra Khanal said that people who frequent the internet and enjoy its features must be cautious to not misuse the technology lest they find themselves victims of cybercrime. “People should not jump into the cyber world without understanding that nothing is for free,” warned SSP Khanal and urged internet users to be more careful with their online activity as they must personally bear its consequences.
Current investigation into cybercrime get their jurisdiction through the Electronic Transactions Act of 2008. “The law has been defined under Chapter 9 of the act as an ‘offense relating to the computer’. Under this law, cyber-offenders will be punished up to five years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to Rs 100,000 depending on the crime’s severity,” said lawyer Basanta Basnet.
Yet, even if the repercussions look tough on paper, cybercrime in Nepal is flourishing, owing, often, to victims remaining reluctant to report crimes due to societal stigmas. Add the ever increasing number of novice internet users into the mix, and crimes from the dark web look likely to be a major concern in the country for many years to come. As a word of caution, DIG Joshi says, “Netizens should have a clear understanding of net ethics in order to navigate cyberspace. It is all fun and games until something goes terribly awry”