CYBER ENCOUNTERS (CYBER ENCOUNTERS: Cops’ Adventures with Online Criminals)
Author :
Ashok Kumar & O.P Manocha
Category :
Adventure/Non-Fiction
Publisher :
Penguin eBury Press
Available On :
Amazon India and Flipkart
Quote By Author :
Quote By Ashok Kumar DGP: "The momentum of crimes can be reduced and controlled only by optimizing awareness about cybercrimes. Hence, Manocha ji and I decided to come up with a book that will carry all the necessary information and Do's and Don'ts for using any cyber Services" Quote by O.P Manocha:"Youth and senior citizens should have more familiarity of the adverse consequences of the Internet"
Publish Date :
24-Apr-2023


Review :

CYBER ENCOUNTERS: Cops’ Adventures with Online Criminals

Cybercrimes have become a global concern, with everyone be it individuals, businesses, or governments falling prey to diversified forms of malicious traps in the digital realm. These crimes, facilitated by the widespread use of technology and the internet, pose significant threats to personal privacy, financial security, and national security. The book, “CYBER ENCOUNTERS: Cops’ Adventures with Online Criminals,” lets the readers explore India's cyber landscape, delving into prevalent cybercrimes like hacking, fraud, identity theft, and cyberbullying. The book sheds light on the alarming rise of these digital offenses. It is penned down by Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar and former DRDO Scientist O.P Manocha and published by Penguin Random House India. Cyber Encounters was released in April 2023. The book consists of 13 chapters and a few notes spread across 198 pages.

With a focus on the legal framework surrounding cybercrimes, the book examines India’s existing laws and regulations, advocating for a proactive push toward generating awareness to combat evolving cyber threats. It highlights the challenges faced in effectively addressing cybercrimes and emphasizes the need for proactive and robust legislation to keep up with the ever-evolving nature of cyber threats. One of the critical aspects covered in the book is the investigation of cybercrimes. It provides insights into the complexities involved in gathering digital evidence and the role of law enforcement agencies in combating these crimes. The importance of specialized cybercrime investigation units and the need for public-private partnerships are also emphasized.

A better understanding of different types of cybercrimes and the criminal, as well as victim psychology behind them, is crucial in reducing these threats effectively. One of the prevalent types of cybercrimes is hacking, where unauthorized individuals gain access to computer systems or networks to exploit or manipulate data. It may result in data breaches, financial theft, and even the disruption of critical infrastructure. Another significant cybercrime is online fraud, which comes with various deceptive practices such as phishing, identity theft, and credit card fraud. Cyberbullying, on the other hand, involves the usage of digital platforms to harass, intimidate, or harm individuals donning severe psychological and emotional impacts on victims, which may lead to social isolation and even tragic consequences.

Ransomware attacks can leave businesses and organizations hanging on a thin thread with extreme risks of downfall or even worse paralyze them, causing financial losses, reputation, and disruptions in the services. Another equally challenging cybercrime is cyber terrorism which intends to have internet-and-dark web-coordinated attacks on critical infrastructures, government systems, or public utilities. These attacks aim to create chaos, instil fear, and inflict damage on a large scale. None of the types is less competent than the other. With the help of social engineering, cybercriminals deceive individuals and gain access to their sensitive information, causing financial losses and reputational damage. The problem starts with our inclination towards and dependence on the convenient and resourceful tool, i.e., “internet.”

This book is a compelling anthology featuring a collection of true accounts/ anecdotes depicting the successfully resolved cybercrime cases by dedicated police officers. It is a perfect comedy of intrigue as each chapter immerses readers in the cases' backgrounds, gradually unfolding the characters and their journey toward a climactic turning point. Through Skaz/ narrative approach, readers gain insight into the psychology of the characters, understanding their vulnerabilities and the factors that drive them to make regrettable mistakes and the pathos they don upon you. The book serves as a reminder of the profound consequences that arise from these actions, emphasizing the importance of vigilance and responsible online behaviour.

The narration seamlessly blends with the writing, immersing readers in a captivating storytelling experience and injecting analepses adding depth and elevating literary realism (establishing a genuine connection with them), making it ideal for an audiobook adaptation. Notably, the book's strength lies in its use of simple sentence structures and easily comprehensible language, ensuring accessibility to a wide range of readers.

There are 13 chapters, each containing different eye-opening story.

Chapter 1: Bitter Honey

Chapter 2: The Lottery That Was Never Won

Chapter 3: The World's Most Expensive Dog!

Chapter 4: Daring to Masquerade as the Top Cop

Chapter 5: The Money Doubling App or the Money Dwindling App?

Chapter 6: No One Dare Use Plastic Money

Chapter 7: A Bunch of Teens Fleece Senior US Citizens

Chapter 8: Sextortion

Chapter 9: Phish-erman Gets Caught in the Net

Chapter 10: Taken for the Ride of His Life Instead of a Heli-Ride

Chapter 11: A Quick Gain Is a Quick Loss

Chapter 12: Can You Bank Upon a Banker?

Chapter 13: The Incessant Challenges Posed by Cyber Gangsters (Epilogue)

Every chapter commences with an intriguing teaser, such as the chapter titled as "No One Dare Use Plastic Money," is followed by a teaser statement you can scroll down and read like, “Inspector Rajesh faces jaw-dropping cyber encounters as he sets out to catch an invisible thief, who leaves behind nothing but digital footprints.” These elements stir curiosity for the storyline. What makes such Bourgeois Tragedy (domestic tragedy) even more remarkable is that all these incidents stem from real cases tackled by the police officers, striving to bring in resolution.

With the progress of the chapters, all the aspects of the characters, scenarios, and backgrounds start unravelling. This catapults a better explanation of the cases as readers follow the protagonist’s situation quite well, and how one situation transitions into another building bildungsroman in some mercy.

Such descriptive narrative also further helps the readers in identifying and relating the small mistakes that each of us commits in our daily lives, maybe due to paucity of time, carelessness, ignorance of the systems, unwillingness to learn, or something else. It could be any reason, but one thing is for sure - all of it gradually snowballed into a bigger smash and fall.

Here is an example of the same, “He did not notice that the LED at the mouth of the card swipe slot, which normally blinked green, was off today. The first thing he did when he reached home was to stack his card and money carefully in his steel Godrej almirah locker.” Soon after this Ravi realizes than he has been slapped with fraud through his card, and he was swept off of INR 1, 89,000 in multiples of 9000. The blinking of light that went unnoticed caused huge damage. Small mistake, a profound effect! 

 

During a rendezvous, I asked Ashok Kumar ji (one of the authors), what motivated him to write a book on cybercrimes.

To this, he replied that the advancement of technology and the internet has leveraged a lot of conveniences in accessing information and in daily necessary operations like making payments, online orders, booking hotels, etc. People are now used to opting for fast, easy, smooth, and/or cashless mode of operations. However, the population of internet users in India is way higher than the size of the police force available for work. Hence, the momentum of crimes can be reduced and controlled only by optimizing awareness about cybercrimes. Hence, Manocha ji and I decided to come up with a book that will carry all the necessary information and Dos and Don’ts for using any cyber services. We want people to have a safe and secure utility of cyber services without falling into any trap.

Here are some eye-openers for you.

According to the studies, the internet penetration rate in India has experienced a steep growth, reaching around 48.7 percent in 2022, compared to only 4 percent in 2007. This means that almost half of India's 1.37 billion population had internet access, positioning the country in second place in the world as per active internet user base. Internet connections tripled by 2021, with urban areas having higher connectivity than rural regions. Despite affordable prices, internet usage hasn't reached its full potential due to factors like low awareness and a gender gap. With affordable data service offers rendered by the service providers, the internet usage boom multiplied. Indians embrace digital living, engaging in various online activities such as information seeking, shopping, entertainment, and social media usage.

Meanwhile, India holds the second position in terms of user numbers, with 755 million social media users recorded in 2022 – immediately preceding the United States, and way ahead of Russia, Japan, Germany, and the UK. India is projected to reach 1.17 billion users by 2027, showcasing a substantial growth trajectory. The United States follows as the third-largest social network audience, with Indonesia and Brazil rounding out the top five. These statistics highlight the immense influence and reach of social media platforms in both China and India, shaping communication, connectivity, and social interactions among their respective populations.

In a scenario where technological growth is so rapid that it becomes difficult to match and stay abreast with the trends and advancements if you miss for some days, the possibilities of cyber-attacks also increase drastically. Controlling and providing security to a country like India to save people from any form of cyber traps is literally a Herculean task.

As Ashok ji emphasized, raising awareness about cyber behaviour and crimes is crucial in preventing such incidents. Additionally, it's equally important for everyone to grasp the psychology of the victims (as in how and why they set foot in the ambush), and the psychological impact(s) on the victims, as the autotelic criminals exhibit no mercy.

Each story has sharply underlined the sentimental angles of the victims. Not that the cybercriminals are always aware of the situations of thousands of people, but it’s a matter of chance for them – hit and trial - either strategically trapped or lured into it. However, each story has a sentimental and emotional angle towards the climax. For example, Madhu kept transacting more money to gift a pet dog on Diya’s birthday. As she had lost her husband tragically and was under depression, she grew to be more insecure and protective towards her daughters. For all the obvious reasons, she valued one’s existence, life, and availability more than money and ended up being swindled with. As she was in touch with the criminal, who possessed strong persuasive, and manipulating powers, she got carried away without applying any reasoning or discussion prior to committing the mistakes of buying the most expensive dog on earth.

In fact, cybercrimes disproportionately impact females, with cases of online harassment, revenge porn, and privacy breaches causing significant harm. Addressing this issue requires heightened awareness, robust legal measures, and support systems to protect and empower women in the digital realm. In one of his tweets, Kumar ji has shared that Dehradun is safest place for women in the entire nation by virtue of support from the locals and Uttarakhand police. The police have also come up with an SOS-based Gaura Shakti App for women’s safety - Dial 112.

In another chapter, Hadley’s call to a toll-free number (which was assumed as an authorized Microsoft service provider) to troubleshoot the issues he was facing while making video calls with his son, got him duped. Hadley is a retired senior citizen of the USA, who was feeling lonely, and the fright of COVID accelerated his anxiety quadrupole times. He wanted to see and connect with someone close. He was trying his best to connect with his son, but the video won’t work each time the call was made. The need to talk and share made him restless. This led him to step into a pitfall i.e., a scam conducted by a bunch of teenagers. In the story of pilgrimage to Kedar Nath (part of Char Dham yatra) draws strong attention toward the devotion and emotions of the devotees attached to the God. A simple booking of a helicopter for travel could have spoofed Shlok of a huge sum.

Another element that adds to the degrees of relativeness, is the mention of real places like “Ajay had reached Vasant Kunj when…”; “The Patel Nagar Thana lodged the complaints..”; “….the best ATMs to skim were the ones in Nehru Colony;” “….Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun..”; “… went to the routine walk in the park near Vinayak Nagar;” “Affluent people come to Ajmal Khan road in Karol Bagh;” and so on. Places add more depth to authentic information and details that people can easily relate with. The authors could have kept the names of the places a secret or changed them to avoid any hassles, but I feel that not doing so has made it look more real and believable, making people imbibe the realities in their neighbourhood and the world around them.

Like we were talking about ignorance, time constraints, and other reasons that lead to scams, here is a perfect example. Dev, a cab driver, who was completing a ride and was on the way, had applied for a loan from SBI. However, he was unaware of the nitty-gritty and ended up sharing the CVV number of his card and OTP to save on time and to have a convenient dealing so that he didn’t have to go to the bank to complete the process, which kind of sounded like a comfort deal to him. Often, we choose our convenience over other things, and this has become a selling point/ USP for many service organizations. However, it may not necessarily result in favour of the users. In this case, he was fleeced of INR 25,000. 

The superstar Amitabh Bachchan, who has written the Foreword of this book, was also scammed with INR 5 lakhs through phishing.

In some of the stories, you will also find people getting trapped as they watch porn sites. Some of the chapters have featured it well like in Sextortion (chapter 8), and A Bunch of Teens Fleece Senior US Citizens (chapter 7).

The famous series on cybercrimes, Jamtara also have visibility here in the book. “Phish-erman Gets Caught in the Net” traces back to Jamtara, Jharkhand.

One of the common scams that has paved its way to the book as a subject is the lottery scam. Most of us have received such emails that claim to give us a huge sum of money for winning a jackpot, or somebody has an unclaimed property, and the attorney can write our name in the will. It’s important to realize that a lot of people have various needs, and some have overwhelming desires but to fulfil them earning money is important. But real earnings can never be this quick and white. This was quite evident in chapter 2, “The Lottery that was Never Won”.

There is also a category of cybercrime that is carried out through “honey trapping.” Through fake accounts in the name of women, men are enticed into a relationship and affectionate conversations that lead to monetary fraud by manipulating people’s emotions. This was quite apparent in: Bitter Honey chapter.

 

Since AI and Machine Learning are taking over various technologies, bringing a paradigm shift in manifold ways. Of course, there are pros, as they don a revolutionary umbrella upon the world, but there are a lot of cons also. How do you think AI can add to cybercrimes? (A question I posed to Mr. Kumar)

Ashok ji (in an agreement tone) said, oh they can massively and intensely increase the incidences of cybercrimes. Deep fake might gradually become the new normal creating a lot of parallel virtual worlds tampering with the authenticity of the real-world and creating unimaginable scams. Several scams like impersonation, identity cloning, voice cloning, imposter creation, and much more can get become more frequent. This will further add to different types of cybercrimes at different levels altogether. For example, identity cloning can lead to phishing and extraction of money and/or extortion. Its unimaginable. We are still working on feasible options for AI catalyzing cybercrimes.

 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a rapidly advancing field that focuses on creating intelligent machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. It encompasses various technologies, such as machine learning and natural language processing, enabling AI systems to analyze data, learn from experience, and make informed decisions. AI finds applications in diverse fields, including healthcare, finance, and transportation, revolutionizing industries, and shaping the future of technology. A reference to a movie released in 2001, “AI: Artificial Intelligence” and its ending may have a lot of resemblance for our future in the times to come. However, the other side of coin is that it has immense potential to take cybercrimes to new heights and ignite them on multiple dimensions.

Deepfake technology, using AI and machine learning, creates convincing manipulated content that can deceive and mislead on a massive scale. It undermines trust, privacy, and media integrity, spreading misinformation and distorting facts. Deepfakes have personal and societal consequences, including harassment, revenge porn, raise ethical concerns about consent and privacy and character assassination. Addressing this challenge requires advanced detection, media literacy, and legal regulations, which will take time. By fostering responsible AI use and investing in countermeasures, we can safeguard information integrity in our digital society.

This reminds me that another remarkable element integrated in the chapters is the mention of legal term references, codes, and statutes specific to an activity, crime, etc. For example, FIR by Vikas was registered under Section 66D of IT Act 2000 and Section 420 of IPC Act 1860. In another case, a scam on online relationships was registered under Sections 292, 354C, 384 and 385 of IPC and Section 66E of the IT Act 2000. Showcasing support to Anil and Sunil, who were cheated of INR 70,000+ and 90, 000+, respectively, Mahesh registered an FIR under Section 420 of the IPC and 66C, 66D of the IT Act. Madhu’s complaint was registered as an FIR under Section 154 CrPC. There are several such examples that enlighten readers about their rights and exact legal references, case-wise.

Another message that is given to all the readers here is that at any given point of time, when anyone falls prey to cybercrimes s/he should come forward and file a complaint battling all the inhibitions and hesitations.

There are many significant elements that weave the structure and flow of the book, including the tackling of issues and handling capacities of the police officer. It would be apt to say, “Once a cop, will always be a cop”; hence, their selfless dedication to their work is commendable. The story is also woven around how they try to find alternative solutions to break a dead-end situation and join the dots. In most of cybercrime cases where victims are in touch with the fraudsters, they are suggested by the cops to keep the interactions continued for traceability and to know the criminal mindsets better. For example, when Inspector Harish, who was tired of trying to collate information through various social media platforms; therefore, he decided to think like the fraudster and succeeded in it.

The slant of involvement of police officers also adds value to the storyline exuberating imagery of how police officers deal with situations as nothing is deus ex machina. In one of the stories, it was shown that the officer tried calming down the victim by offering a glass of water. Such gestures are praiseworthy.

 

I would also like to say here that upon reading a chapter in the sequence of title, introductory teaser line, and storyline concluding with the words of cyber wisdom, it kind of leaves you with an impression of series like Saavdhaan India and Crime Patrol. The format of each chapter is quite simple and lucid, making it one of the best-selling books.

A Bumper Gift: Below are the words of cyber wisdom mentioned chapter-wise – a useful takeaway.

Chapter 1: Protecting Personal Information

In this chapter, the importance of safeguarding personal information and taking precautions to avoid falling victim to online scams is discussed. The readers are reminded to think twice before accepting friend requests from unknown individuals on social media platforms and are advised to set privacy settings to limit access to their personal information.

 

Chapter 2: Beware of Unsolicited Communications

This chapter focuses on the need to exercise caution regarding unsolicited emails and phone calls. Readers are advised to verify the legitimacy of any lottery winnings they may be notified about via email and are warned against paying any fees to claim such prizes.

 

Chapter 3: Secure Online Shopping

In Chapter 3, the emphasis is on safe online shopping practices. Readers are encouraged to visit only reputable websites and are urged to confirm the legitimacy of a business before making any payments. The chapter also recommends meeting sellers in person whenever possible to establish the authenticity of their business before engaging in significant transactions.

 

Chapter 4: Identifying Fake Profiles

Chapter 4 highlights the signs of fake profiles on social media platforms. Readers are encouraged to analyze the number of friends and posts of unknown individuals before accepting friend requests. It is recommended to limit access to personal information on social media and to cross-verify any requests for money.

 

Chapter 5: Avoiding Suspicious Apps and Offers

This chapter focuses on the risks associated with downloading unfamiliar apps advertised on social media. Readers are advised to exercise caution and avoid falling for schemes offering easy money. The chapter emphasizes the importance of using strong passwords to secure accounts linked to apps.

 

Chapter 6: Protecting Against Card Fraud

In Chapter 6, readers are provided with precautions to prevent card fraud. They are warned to be cautious of suspicious devices attached to ATMs or point-of-sale (POS) terminals. The chapter emphasizes the use of chip-enabled cards, discourages sharing card information, and advises entering PINs discreetly to prevent unauthorized access.

 

Chapter 7: Maintaining System Security

This chapter stresses the importance of keeping operating systems and antivirus software up to date. Readers are advised against clicking on suspicious links to prevent malware downloads. Regularly backing up important files is also recommended.

 

Chapter 8: Assessing Video Calls and Social Media Relations

The chapter focuses on video calls and social media relationships. Readers are advised to exercise caution when receiving video calls from unknown individuals and to critically analyze the intentions behind such calls. It is recommended to meet people in person to establish genuine relationships as social media profiles may be fake.

 

Chapter 9: Safeguarding Sensitive Information

In this chapter, readers are reminded of the importance of never revealing OTPs (one-time passwords), login credentials, card numbers, or other sensitive information to anyone. They are advised to be cautious of pop-ups and to avoid clicking on suspicious links.

 

Chapter 10: Ensuring Secure Online Transactions

This chapter highlights the significance of avoiding advertised links on the internet and instead visiting authentic websites for transactions. The chapter suggests verifying the genuineness of website reviews by checking for duplicity and patterns in the displayed text.

 

Chapter 11: Vigilance in Business Deals

This chapter focuses on conducting safe online business deals. Readers are advised to verify the authenticity of companies and platforms through various sources before engaging in significant transactions. Scepticism is encouraged, and readers are prompted to question why an unknown person would offer them a large business opportunity.

 

Chapter 12: Financial Security Measures

Through this chapter, the readers are advised to regularly review their bank statements, close unused bank accounts, and utilize multi-factor authentication for online banking. The chapter recommends updating Know Your Customer (KYC) details with financial institutions and advises against using Aadhaar cards for address verification due to their linkage with biometric information.

 

When I asked one of the authors, O.P. Manocha about his perspective that he would like to share with the readers, he shared that while prepping up for the book, both the authors carried out extensive research to have an in-depth knowhow of the cases, and also met the investigating officers of the respective cases in the process to know more about the situations, victims’ stance and what impulse did they have to tread the wrong and uncertain. Mr. Manocha also opined that youth and senior citizens should have more familiarity with adverse effects of internet; why, what, and how it should be placed as a high-priority goal. In fact, senior citizens should learn about technology, internet usage, and allied crimes as their ignorance and mental pressure lead to several indecisive moments that trigger issues. We have seen a steep rise in the registration of cases.

Last year alone, the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) - www.cybercrime.gov.in, the cybercrime reporting portal of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), received more than one million complaints. I4C collaborates with law enforcement agencies around the clock to swiftly identify and address cybercrime cases in the best ways possible. It actively engages in research & development activities, partnering with universities and research institutes to develop innovative technologies and tools. I4C advocates for adaptable cyber laws and facilitates mutual legal assistance treaties with other nations.

What Mr. Manocha suggested is absolutely apt. Many of us have elderly people at home. Ask yourself, how many of them are able to use smartphones, i-pad, laptops, and other devices with ease and without any assistance? Delve a bit deeper and check how many of them are aware of cyber-attacks and can handle the internet with safety and security. Observe!

Such ignorance may pose a heavy slap on the pocket and consequential mental stress. Ajay and Madhu’s ignorance and tragic situation somehow led to such abnormal decisions that they are most unlikely to ever make in their balanced state of mind. However, the hard truth is that detaching oneself of online platforms is unviable. From shopping to getting daily groceries; booking a cab to making monthly payments; booking a comfortable stay during the vacation to smooth functioning of professional work or running a business, for each and every work we are dependent on technology and online resources. In fact, youth’s life intricately moves around trends and technology.

Here are some more eye-opening facts:

China leads the global rankings as the country with the most internet users, with over a billion of its 1.4 billion population being online, followed by India with the second largest digital population with 692 million users.  

India was the second-largest country to have first-time online shoppers after the pandemic was declared in 2020. 5% of the population falls under this category. It shares this position with Australia, rowing the same boat in the same capacity of 5%, by preceded by two countries sharing the first place at 6% i.e., Canada and France.

E-commerce has revolutionized global retail. With the rise of the internet and digitalization, online transactions have become accessible to consumers worldwide. As internet access expands, the number of online shoppers continues to grow, with over five billion internet users globally. Retail e-commerce sales worldwide is expected to grow to 7,391 billion USD by 2025 from the current status of 6,151, billion USD, this year.

Needlessly, internet usage is critical and basic to one’s life these days. For ironing out the time constraints I may opt for online resources, but not for all the activities. Although I would still like to go outdoors for mud play and smudge it on my clothes and enlarge my social circle by engaging with my friends and acquaintances in person. However, on the contrary, youth, these days, believe more and rely more on online platforms to connect with people and perform their work. Hence, more awareness of safe handling of the internet should be propagated.

This is the goal of this book. It covers different crimes involving people of different age groups, and in different scenarios of their lives, exquisitely and meticulously created. What weaves the stories even better are the illustrations given in the chapters according to their storylines. Visuals add intensity and create a framework of the situation in a much better fashion. The courtesy for this goes to Ms. Sunita Negi. Talking about the design aspects, the symbolic book cover vividly describes the objectives of the book and its contents. This simple and easily understood design has been designed by Gurudev Sidhu and Manish Bhatt, August Communications.

This top-selling book has been widely acclaimed by eminent personalities, including Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, and the Legendary Ruskin Bond. You may refer to the links here:

https://twitter.com/AshokKumar_IPS/status/1664450339213574144?s=20

https://twitter.com/AshokKumar_IPS/status/1667400569278038016?s=20

As one, who has reviewed the book and written the analysis, I would recommend this book to everyone. The book seems to have great potential to be transformed into web series.

It’s a must-read, and interesting book, deserves not to be kept inside the bookshelf. It’s time to alert all our senses and neurons to be more watchful and wiser while using online services and spread the word.

My suggestion to the authors and the publishing house would be to translate this book into different vernacular mediums for better outreach and help in preventing crimes in a much more efficient way – serving the larger purpose.

The book is available in Hindi and English, grab a copy from Amazon for just INR 211 (paperback) and 200.45 (Kindle Edition).

It was an amazing reading experience for me. I also had a great time in making an analysis. With this, I Smruti Sweta Samantray would sign off here. Happy Reading!

 

 

 

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