Police nab a youth for defrauding US-based Nepali national onlineIn the past six months, 560 complaints of hacking social media accounts have been reported. Nearly 80 percent of them involve Facebook users.
On Thursday, the Nepal Police Cyber Bureau arrested Ashish Pariyar, a 22-year-old resident of Pokhara Metropolitan City-19, from Kathmandu on a charge of fraud for engaging in criminal activities online.
Pariyar had hacked the Facebook account of a Nepali citizen living in the United States and duped the latter’s friend, who lives in Nepal and is also a Facebook user, into wiring money to him to the US. He impersonated the victim and asked his friend to send him Rs50,000.
According to the bureau, the victim is tech-savvy, thus statistically unlikely to fall into an online trap.
This incident underscores the vulnerability of a majority of active social media users, who are far less aware.
“We are investigating the matter further,” said Superintendent of Police, Pashupati Kumar Ray.
Pariyar, who knew about their friendship, and was also a mutual Facebook friend, spotted a chance to make quick bucks, according to police.
“The hacker knew that the two friends helped each other out financially on occasions,” said Ray. “He pretended to be one of the friends asking for help from the other.”
The fraud came to light when the friend who wired the money tried to contact his friend in the US and got no response. He then contacted another mutual friend. It was only when the third friend informed him that their friend's Facebook had been hacked that he realised his mistake.
He then went to the police with the bank account he had deposited money into to file a complaint with the cyber bureau.
Pariyar is now in judicial custody for further investigation. The case has been lodged at the Kathmandu District Court.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Ray. “Hacking social media accounts and phishing activities are on the rise in Nepal.”
Nepali youths are getting increasingly drawn into it for monetary gains and to “earn a quick buck,” say officials.
With the increase in the use of social media, to a level of obsession, a large chunk of the population who have access to the internet, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to this kind of fraud.
According to the bureau, 560 complaints of hacking of social media accounts have been reported in the past six months. Of them, nearly 80 percent are cases related to Facebook while the remaining 20 percent are about Twitter and Instagram.
In the current fiscal year, seven cases of cyber crimes committed on social media platforms have been taken to courts where scammers and hackers have done transactions of around Rs2 million. In the last fiscal year, police lodged 11 cases of social media fraud, involving a total of 129 perpetrators, and Rs4.9 million in monetary transactions.
“Hackers are proactively spreading their net in Nepal and the technology works in their favour,” said Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Poshraj Pokharal, who is also a central spokesperson of Nepal Police Headquarters.
Meanwhile, Ray, the spokesperson of the cybercrime bureau, said online criminal activities are being conducted in the same manner as organised crime wherein multiple groups work in coordination to dupe susceptible victims on social media.
“We have found that they have an organised group who divide their tasks with teams formed to collect vital information of prominent people—bank accounts details of individuals, activating and taking command of digital wallets registered with various phone numbers—and developing newer apps to trap social media users,” said Ray.
The Bhotahity-based Nepal’s cyber bureau has just around 60 employees, according to sources. The strength of resources and personnel deployed at the bureau is not proportional to the number of cybercrime cases registered on a daily basis, leaving a large chunk of grievances unaddressed.
In the latest update, the cyber bureau has recorded a troubling rise of ‘revenge porn’ in Nepal. In the past six months, 680 such cases were registered and many have termed it alarming in a demographic where internet literacy is very poor.
As a preemptive measure at securing one’s online activities and tracking one’s digital footprint, officials at the cyber bureau request citizens to keep the personal information they share with the larger audience on social media at a minimum. Details such as one’s age, nicknames, favourite food, pets and places should be secured.
“Also we suggest people not to accept friend requests from unknown accounts and avoid enticing external links that carry sexually provocative materials,” said Ray.