Sunday December 04, 2022

Digital rights body receives 4,441 blackmailing complaints

April 24, 2022

LAHORE : Digital Rights Foundation’s (DRF) helpline 0300-39393 that started in December 2016 has received thousands of complaints of violation of digital rights by now. In 2021 alone, DRF received 4,441 complaints on the helpline.

Most common are cases of blackmailing. A girl was in a relationship with a boy who she realised at one point was not right and called off the relationship. The boy refused to quit and threatened her with sharing their pictures together with her parents and family. This was upsetting for the girl. Their families did not know of the relationship. She tried convincing him to close the affair but he would not. Not knowing how to deal with blackmailing, she called Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) on its helpline that provides legal aid, basic counselling services and digital and security assistance to those who reach out to them for help.

When complainants ask for action against perpetrators, DRF goes to Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

DRF referred the case to FIA which asked the girl to call a meeting with the boy and when he came at the agreed place, the FIA personnel who were already there, took his phone from him, deleted all the pictures and chats with the girl and returned his phone. FIA is authorised to delete all the stuff from the perpetrator’s device. The girl now feels secure.

Most cases reported are of blackmailing. Most of the time they are pictures that appear general, harmless, like four people standing or sitting in a row and one wonders who do they affect but in our social set-up they tend to create big issue. Pakistan is different in this respect from other countries. Families react to pictures that is not understandable in the west. Then girls are also blackmailed with sharing non-consensual use of intimate images and videos. All girls want their pictures to be taken off social media. In case the perpetrators succeed in reaching out to the family, parents pressurise girls to quit jobs and put more checks on school/college routine. The News learnt such cases are reported every other day.

Fake Facebook account where the wrongdoer gives the phone number of a girl with a fake statement from her saying ‘call me at night’ or places a picture of a girl with caption such as ‘the coolest baby in town’, are common occurrence.

DRF helps remove content, gives remedy and guidance to avoid and counter such a situation in future.

Another big issue that is often reported with DRF is of hacking of WhatsApp, Gmail, Insta and Facebook accounts. Experts say it is not safe to use Facebook and Insta accounts on office desktop and it is important to always log out of the accounts. The one thing that digital rights practitioners insist on is “do not hand over your mobile phone to anyone”. Even when there is so much problem that we take our phone to a shop for repair, experts advise to stay and watch the screen while the repair work is going on because we will have no one to blame if the data is stolen.

WhatsApp hacking is quite frequent followed by blackmailing. There are more than two billion WhatsApp users. Instances have been reported of WhatsApp hacking where criminals created an emergency, false alarm to extract money from family.

“You may get message from someone who has hacked your son’s number, asking for OTP, so be beware.” People receive calls, “I am in hospital. I have asked for money from jazz cash. By mistake, code has reached you. Please send the code.” There have been instances of the caller posing as army officer and asking for personal information such as CNIC. Then people receive calls where they are threatened that their bank account will be deactivated in a few days. The caller says, “We are sending you an OTP. Share with us.” People receive calls from original helplines as well which ask for personal information such as bank account. These are various forms of fraud.

Helplines constantly keep telling people they will never receive any call from helpline.

The hackers call on the person’s number and ask him/her to send the one-time password (OTP) which he/she has received. Only, they use different ways. Do not share six-digit code with anyone, experts stress.

“To avoid fraud, particularly financial fraud, don’t share your OTP”, they advise. If you have to share, share only with the one you trust completely plus call and confirm, they say. Experts stress on two-factor authentication to prevent data breeches. It is important to protect our accounts whether they are social media accounts or bank accounts. Protecting personal information is important, the experts say.