People's increased internet surfing during the novel coronavirus shutdown, and pandemic-led income crunch have prompted an epidemic-like surge in already rising cyber-crimes, say police.
For instance, tech staffer at a telecom operator Zahid Bin Aziz lost his job last year owing to the pandemic-led layoff.
After losing the work, he resorted to fraudulent activities with the skills he was hired for. The man, hailing from Tangail, opened multiple Facebook accounts impersonating members of the House and other political figures.
Pretending to be the political leaders, he updated photos, videos and statuses of the accounts so that the fake accounts looked real. From the accounts, Aziz established communications with his targets – mostly government job aspirants and contractors.
Aziz, pretending to be Chief Whip Noor-E-Alam Chowdhury, lured the targets by saying they would get public jobs and construction contacts if they paid him. He had almost made a fortune through the fraudulent activities before he was caught in November last year.
Like jobless Aziz, many became involved in online fraud and cyber-crime during the Covid-19 pandemic and police say they are struggling with the epidemic-like spiral in such crimes.
According to the cyber tribunal, as many as 338 cyber-crime cases – more than the annual average in previous years – were filed across the country between July and September last year, soon after Bangladesh reopened its economic activities after a 66-day long nationwide shutdown.
The tribunal has been getting 281 cases, on average, per year since its inception in 2013.
Law enforcement says it is working to combat criminal activities in cyberspace, making the greatest use of its equipment and skills. But, curbing such crimes in the upcoming days will be challenging.
Mohammad Kamrul Ahsan, additional deputy inspector general to the Criminal Investigation Department's (CID) Cyber Police Centre, said most of the cyber-crime complaints they get fall into the low-tech category, such as ATM card and mobile banking fraud, blackmail after hacking Facebook accounts plus harassing women and children on the web.
"High-tech crimes such as bank heists using malware are few in number," he told The Business Standard.
30 cyber-crime cases per month in Dhaka
In Dhaka, there are three separate units of police who deal cases related to cyber offenses. The units are the Cyber Crime Investigation Division under the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), Police Cyber Support for Women under the police headquarters and the Cyber Police Centre of CID.
According to the DMP, cyber-crimes were on the rise in 2020 compared to the previous year.
In 2019, 284 cyber-crime cases were filed in Dhaka and 171 people were arrested in the cases. In 2020, the cases rose to 317 while 284 people were arrested on cyber offense charges.
On average, 30 cyber-crime cases are lodged, on average, in the capital per month. But, the number of cases in October and November last year were 39 and 42, respectively.
Only 7% of victims lodge lawsuits
Rights activists said only 7% of cyber-crime victims go to the police.
According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), 23% of the victims refrain from filing a formal complaint fearing further harassment while another 23% victims do not report the offenses fearing damage to their social reputation.
ASK says 30% of the victims, who are mostly women, do not know where to seek justice if they fall victim to cyber offenses.
Nina Goswami, senior deputy-director of ASK, said there is a rising trend of cyber-crimes across the world. She advocated for safe internet use – a policy already adopted by many countries.
"The concerned government office should ensure a safe internet. Additionally, awareness campaigns should be carried out as a measure to curb offenses done via the internet," she added.
ASK says a lack of cyber security awareness, victims' concern about further damage to social reputation and a sense of impunity among the culprits are the major contributors to cyber offenses.