Cheating By Impersonation / Social Engineering

In several cases, adults pretend to be youngsters; or resort to false statements about their education; profession or employment; marital status; in order to induce victims to engage with them and to initiate physical relationships.

A married male with children posts on a matrimonial website. The woman believing him to be single, as is claimed on the site started dating him and they also move into a more intimate relationship over several years. From claiming to be single the male claims he is waiting for his divorce to come through. Finally, the truth comes out. That the male merely thought that a matrimonial site was good hunting grounds to start relationships with single women.

An autorickshaw driver pretends to be a college student online. Using his fake profile he starts chatting online with a girl who lives far away from his home town; builds her trust over some time; asks to meet her in person; and once he meets her and convinces her to have a physical relationship with him, he merely closes the fake account and then starts another.

When questioned about this, his only response is that if it were not for the fake profile, he would not have been able to “get” the girl!

A girl with low self – esteem and with very few friends is thrilled when a boy, who was very popular in schools reaches out on social media. She is constantly preoccupied with her online chats and exchanges and starts trusting the boy. When she is then asked to share nude photos and videos she does so based on her trust of her classmate and peer. She also does this as it gives her confidence and self-worth. She feels wanted. Unfortunately for her she was a victim of social engineering – an adult was all along just using the photo of her classmate to nurture this friendship and then relationship and then misuses the trust to obtain sexually explicit photos and videos of the girl.

These may read like short stories or fiction but unfortunately these are real cases and only the tip of the sleazy iceberg of impersonations online and social engineering. There are more serious cases with scary consequences affecting children and young adults and scarring them for life.

It is important to protect against such crimes through guidance and prompt action.   

Criminals may believe that online platforms or even chat apps gives them anonymity and that they can use it to commit these crimes but timely reporting and protection and preservation of evidence can help in tracing them out and filing prosecutions against them.

The Information Technology Act, 2000 (as amended) (“IT Act”) and The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) provide remedies against such offences.

Cheating by impersonation using digital means is an offence under the IT Act (s.66D). If it involves identity theft then S.66C IT Act may also be invoked. In addition, if privacy is violated, as in S.66E, this provision may be invoked. Apart from this cheating under IPC (S.420) or other offences may be invoked based on the facts of the case. Cheating through impersonation and using it to facilitate other crimes are all offences which carry severe punishments. Facts of each case will decide further offences that may be invoked including where offences are against children, S.67B IT Act and provisions of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO).

Victims should therefore seek legal remedies to protect their interests and rights and also to ensure that others are not victimised further by such miscreants.

File your complaint online on cybercrime.gov.in Offences against women and children can also be filed anonymously. You are the victim – you are not at fault. Seek justice and ensure that criminals do not harm you or others. Be A Cyber Saathi!

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