Using relationship as a bait to commit serious and damaging crime on unsuspecting victims is growing rapidly in the cyber space. It has become such a menace today that which person to befriend and which to not has become a serious challenge facing the populace in general who are increasingly using the digital space to look for companionship and relationships!
This crime is targeting both women and men who are searching for long term or short term relationship. A typical crime which targets middle aged men looking for short term relationships is now famously called the “Russian Wife Scam”. Through social engineering technique the cyber criminal gets to know the age of a target and through various posts made by him on social networking sites as well as certain other activities and internet usage patterns (over use of adult and porn sites etc), the criminal gets to know the proclivities of the targeted middle aged male victim.
Once the target is identified, he is sent an email soliciting friendship or a relationship. The criminal purports as a female from a western country, generally Russia, Ukraine, Belarus etc – and hence the name Russian Wife Scam. This target is generally married (at least seeing his age he is expected to be married). There are multiple such targets that a criminal interacts with at the same time – the classic phishing attack procedure. All targets do not fall into the web of the criminal, but a handful do and the intended crime then enters its next and crucial stage. Now the victim is gradually, over a period of time – often in excess of 6 months – the faith and trust of the victim is won. The emails which were originally very formal become informal and then intimate. The photographs being sent by the criminal, start from being decent and end up being very personal and suggestive. The trap is laid and the victim is now well and truly entangled in the web of deceit which has been spun by the patient cyber criminal. The victim is now ready to be sent to the next stage of this crime.
The victim is now tempted with a proposed meeting. The victim is asked to come to Russia, which the victim denies. Then the proposition is that the “lady” will visit India to meet the victim. A date is set and the victim is all happy that he will be soon meeting his dear friend and the excitement mounts as the date draws near. But something goes wrong, the “lady” needs small amount of money to pay off a debt or the embassy requires a security deposit or she conveniently falls sick or has an accident which requires money etc. “Reluctantly” she asks the victim for transferring the small amount, which she promises to pay back as soon as she arrives in India. The unsuspecting and “chivalrous” victim happily transfers the money to the specified account. The crime is complete. If required the “lady” will keep milking the victim on one excuse after another, till he realizes that he is being duped and there is no “lady” friend who he is interacting and maintaining a relation with – but a shrewd cyber criminal – who may be residing in a different country then India.
After being so duped what does the victim do? Can he report the matter to the police – maybe not! As he is married, what do you think will be the reaction of his wife? Understanding and composed or something else? That is why this is the perfect crime – the middle aged targeted male has been subject to a horrific crime and he cannot report it too! But I say, even if he does – there is a very slim chance of getting his money back or reaching the perpetrator of the crime.
There are a number of security measures which are recommended to detect such scams and to protect oneself from them, there are certain tell tale signs which should be noted while such contact is made and maintained. Like – she contacts you first; she says that it is her first attempt to find romance online; she is a very truthful person who hates lies and deceit; she sends you a picture or two with almost every letter; some of her pictures are pretty enticing; the file name of her pictures has a different first name than her own; her life story is very sad; she has a girlfriend who met a guy from a foreign country; ability to write in English and her writing styles seem to change often; writes poetry in English; she does not have a phone; your name may appear in a different font than the rest of the letter; sometimes the questions you have asked don’t get answered at all; the girl will make some little mistakes etc etc – the list is almost endless. These can be watched for and if detected the communication must be broken immediately. However the best remedy is to make it a principle – never to make short or long term friendships with unknown persons in the cyber space. As no one is physically present before us we have no opportunity to find out whether the person is a reality or a mirage. As well as we cannot determine what kind of person we are interacting with – whether he/she is a good person or not. And finally we also cannot find out the thought processes going on in the mind of the individual concerned. In such a case it is best to avoid any relation with a “virtual” person in the cyber space, not known to us in the Real World. Even if we do maintain such a relation – despite all advice – at least the bottom line principle should be never to enter into any type of money transactions with such a person.
“Better Safe Than Sorry”! (Views expressed in the column are of the author himself)
(Varun Kapoor is ADG Narcotics & PRTS Indore, MP)