Declare All Out War Against Cyber Crimes
The Police recently said that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has launched investigations into a number of online scams reported this year, while the Cyber Crimes Unit of the CID has also launched investigations into several online scams related to foreign employment scams. Also, it was reported that the Police have received complaints regarding an online racket, which requests people to deposit money to certain bank accounts to pay Customs fees, in order to clear ‘cash prizes from overseas’, which the scammers claimed the victims had won. The CID has further launched investigations into frauds related to lottery jackpot winnings and other prizes, of which eight complaints are regarding vehicle prizes offered through online platforms.
As a result of fast-growing technological advancements, particularly internet-based activities such as online transactions and online communication platforms, the prevalence and complexity of cyber crimes have also gone up rapidly. In addition, the increased availability and affordability of various types of modern technological equipment such as computers, tablets and smart phones also make it easy for anyone who has even rudimentary knowledge about the internet to learn and do countless things on the internet. Even though online scams can be identified as a relatively new type of crimes that surfaced with the increased use of internet in the past few decades, these crimes are as real as any other crime, and affect people’s lives in more ways than we can imagine. Although the main source and medium of these scams is the internet, and in some cases mobile communication apps, damages caused by them are not limited to the internet.
Over the past few years, these scammers have adopted more skillful and diverse ways to deceive people, and have gone on to find their victims through not only the internet, but also through widely used mobile communication apps. Related events that happened in Sri Lanka in the recent past show that these scammers approach their victims in various ways, including shopping scams, fake financial assistance facilities, fake offers, fake lottery wins, click fraud…etc. Defence Secretary, Retired Major General Kamal Gunaratne, recently informed the public of an organised group operating a mobile-based cash transfer scam,which involves demanding ransoms from certain individuals by urging them to pay money to take their names out from certain ongoing criminal investigations.
A factor that exacerbates this situation is the high level of anonymity an internet user can maintain while being active on the internet. Even though these facilities, provided by internet service providers for people to use the internet with complete confidentiality, are considered by many an advantage, the same facilities can be misused by criminals to deceive and rob people’s money, and vanish without leaving a trace. However, as limiting people’s right to privacy and anonymity is not an option, the general public who are at risk, i.e. internet users, also have a responsibility to be vigilant of suspicious messages, winnings and offers, and consult ICT professionals or relevant law enforcement institutions in the event they came across such suspicious activities.
Police Spokesman SSP Jaliya Senaratne recently urged the public to be aware of and not to be misled by such online crimes, by responding to messages or electronic mails, which claim that the recipient has won certain prizes. He also stressed the importance of not disclosing people’s personal details, adding that fraudsters have taken many guises in carrying out these criminal activities.
There are a number of institutions in Sri Lanka dedicated to assisting people to deal with these online scams as well as other forms of cyber crimes. In addition to Government and Non-Government ICT institutions raising awareness on these scams, there are also several departments/specialised units attached to law enforcement agencies such as the Police that have been vested with power to implement the law against fraudsters. There are also legal provisions that can be used to prosecute those involved in cyber crimes. As far as the legal background pertaining to cyber crimes is concerned, the Government of Sri Lanka has taken admirable steps. However, in order to fight against ever-evolving cyber crimes, law enforcement agencies should be further strengthened and applicable laws should also be updated. Depending on the necessity, the Government can also consider introducing new laws. More importantly, the general public should also be made aware of how to protect themselves from online scams.