Cyber fraud diminishes trust in online transactions, against aspirations of Digital Bharat: HC

Financial losses due to cyber fraud diminish people’s trust in online transaction platforms which is against the aspirations of an “advanced Digital Bharat”, the Delhi High Court has said, noting this discourages newcomers from entering the digital realm negatively impacting the economy.

The court’s observations came while refusing to grant bail to a man, accused in a case of defrauding people of their hard earned money through financial frauds committed with the help of a mobile application.

It noted that the conspiracy in the present case must have attracted thousands of investors as the money trail till date, prima facie, is of about Rs 140 crore.

“The case in hand serves as an illustration of how cyber-enabled crimes are taking place in the present digital age wherein the accused persons through a click bait link allure people towards installing an application commonly known as ‘app’ in their mobile phones and then based on this allurement, the cyber illiterate common citizens download them or click the link totally oblivious to the fraud which will stare them in their eyes in a matter of few minutes or hours.

“The bait of getting them short term loans on a click of a button and defrauding them of their hard earned money is nowadays common and the cyber illiteracy of common citizens is being taken advantage of by such accused, as prima facie in the present case,” Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma said.

In this case, a complaint was lodged with the police alleging that the complainant had received SMS messages on his mobile phone for loan for third COVID-19 vaccine dose and it also had a link for checking eligibility.

The moment the complainant opened the link, mobile application ‘Express Loan’ got downloaded and he was asked to fill details of his Aadhaar card and PAN and Rs 4,200 instantly got credited in his bank account, the prosecution said.

However, after four days of availing the loan, he started getting threat calls from the developers of Express Loan application who got access to the contacts and other data stored in his phone and threatened to send morphed photographs to his contacts.

During investigation, the police found that there were 46 more complaints registered against Express Loan application and it was found that another complainant had reported that Rs 25 lakh was extorted from him by the accused persons by morphing his photographs and sending it to his contacts.

The police found that the money was allegedly transferred in the account of accused Vineet Jhavar, who approached the high court seeking bail in the cheating and forgery case.

The high court, in its order, noted that the alleged fraud had taken place at the most difficult times for our country, that is, COVID-19 pandemic when the citizens were suffering losses in business and were looking for survival in the market and earning for themselves.

The innocent investors who had deposited Rs 4,000 or Rs 5,000 in the hope of obtaining loans for survival may have even afforded to deposit this amount with difficulty, it said.

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“Such offences extend well beyond the immediate financial losses associated with fraudulent transactions, and it is the economy at large which suffers firstly through the immediate loss and secondly, it is the loss of the people’s trust in the online financial transactions,” the court said.

It further said that the economic impact is two-fold – first, the direct financial losses incurred through the fraud of often hard earned money of gullible people, and second, “the indirect losses resulting in diminished trust of people in online financial transaction platforms which is against the aspirations of an advanced Digital Bharat”.

The court said these cyber-enabled offences not only breach individual trust but also have far reaching consequences that reverberate through the economic landscape of the country.

These online frauds contribute to eroding the trust of people in the online financial transactions and thus, discourage the newcomers into entering the digital realm, which negatively impacts the overall economy of the country, it said.

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