Coronavirus-induced restrictions on the movement of people have led to a huge spurt in online activity — including that of the criminal variety. In this, it is women who have been at the receiving end in greater numbers. The cloak of anonymity afforded by the virtual world emboldens the perpetrators to target their victims with relative ease. Women are soft targets for virtual stalking, fake ID creation, and forged chatting. If duped into clicking on a malware link, a woman may unwittingly find herself confronted with ghastly prospects, laden with colossal financial repercussions and emotional distress. The click link may be enough to arm the crafty criminal with sensitive information stored on her smart gadget. It may even turn on the camera or microphone of the device, providing him with ammunition for ‘sextortion’. Sextortion is extorting money or sexual favours from someone by blackmailing them with threats of revealing evidence of their sexual activity, which may have been captured by camera or forged via morphed images.
The situation is particularly worrying in Himachal Pradesh where the number of cyber complaints of women trapped by online fraudsters received by the police has risen to 60-90 per week as compared to last year’s 28-35. The cyber crime department must be strengthened to protect the women from this growing menace. As per the National Crime Records Bureau-2018 data, HP ranks first in crimes related to publishing/transmitting of sexually explicit material, second in cyber crimes against women and third in blackmailing/defamation/morphing/fake profile cases.
More people can be prevented from falling prey to this through education on how to securely use digital platforms. Awareness campaigns are needed to protect them. Making strong passwords and being alert against phishing emails, fake videos and online swindlers are essential requisites. Alerting the police is crucial to tracing and penalising the offenders. Reputation of a strong woman is not something that an extortionist can hurt.