Express News Service
KOCHI: From creating fake profiles of police officials, catfishing unsuspecting users as a way to extort money to luring people into buying knock-off products from dubious websites, online fraudsters have hatched many tricks to make a quick buck during the pandemic. TNIE investigates
Not long ago, virtual honey trap was a common modus used by spy agencies to extract information about foreign military establishments and force positions. However, in the present times, it has become a tool for fraudsters to extort money from internet users, especially those who use social media daily. With people holed up in their houses in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, a high number of online honey trap incidents have come to light in Kochi city and Ernakulam district in recent months. The Ernakulam Rural Police alone have registered 19 cases related to online honey trap over the past four months.
One incident which has come to the purview of police officials involved a youngster from Aluva who befriended a woman claiming to be working abroad through a dating app. Once the nature of their conversations turned flirtatious, the woman asked him to send a nude selfie on WhatsApp.
After a few weeks, the victim received a YouTube link. The unlisted video contained a compilation of his nude pictures. The woman demanded Rs1 lakh for deleting the private content. The youngster had little option but to pay after which he lodged the complaint with the police.
“Facebook and dating apps are the most sought-after platforms used by fraudsters for laying online honey traps. Eventually, they migrate to WhatsApp and Telegram. Due to Covid-19, people have been unable to indulge in social activities and are logging onto dating apps or befriend unknown persons on Facebook to kill boredom,” said Nandakishore Harikumar, CEO of Technisanct Technologies, a Kochi based cybersecurity agency.
“Even highly educated people are falling prey to such incidents. Many victims hesitate to lodge a complaint. Responsible use of social media is the only way to keep such fraudsters at bay. Don’t add unknown persons to your friend list on Facebook and don’t chat with strangers on WhatsApp or Telegram,” he said.
According to the police, fraudsters mostly based in North Indian states like Jharkhand and New Delhi are behind honey trap incidents online. “Tracing the real identity of these criminals is not a difficult task. But arresting them is not easy as they are likely to be living in remote villages. When we go to other states to arrest such fraudsters, we don’t receive any assistance from the local police there,” A police officer with the Kerala Police High-tech Cell said.