Company on FB Claims to Sell Macbooks, Cyberstalks Women Instead
#TalkingStalking | She clicked on a website called ‘Voot Unboxed’ and found herself suddenly being cyberstalked.
The Quint DAILY
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A couple of months ago, Shaheen* was looking for a MacBook Air. She was weighing her options – being a student, she did not have the budget for an expensive purchase. A second-hand or a refurbished version would have done the job. While researching online, she chanced upon an advertisement for a website called Voot Unboxed. She clicked on the pop-up and it led her to this Facebook page:
The page looked promising. It was offering bright and shiny Apple products at almost 60% of their original cost.
A MacBook Air is for Rs 77,000. The website was giving me the same product for Rs 33,000. The only rider that each product came with was that the laptop would come without a box.Shaheen
Shaheen really didn’t care about the box too much. She called the number listed on the website to have a one-on-one with the seller. Prashant, the man who identified himself as the owner of the company, spoke about the varieties his company had.
He claimed that they were the market leaders in selling excellent quality laptops. He spoke about his customers and their pleasant experiences. I was partially convinced and told him that I would get back to him in a couple of days.Shaheen
Later that night, Shaheen began receiving a string of messages from an unknown number. The messages ranged from talking about her ‘pretty Facebook display picture’ to ‘I want to talk to you again’, to ‘you have a beautiful voice’. Angry, Shaheen replied to the message asking who the person was – it turned out to be Prashant from Voot Unboxed.
I immediately blocked the number and tried to remember my first conversation with him. I was sure that at no point did I tell him my name.
Within minutes of this, Shaheen started receiving a flurry of messages from several unknown numbers all at once.
The messages continued for days. Being an outstation student, Shaheen was at a loss for what to do. So she did what anyone feeling threatened might think to do; went to the nearest police station to register a complaint.
I went to the cops with screenshots and printouts of all the evidence. I discussed the problem and how I was being cyberbullied and cyberstalked. But the cop dismissed my case by saying, ‘Yeh toh hota rehta hai madam’ (Madam, it happens).Shaheen
The cop then took the number of the accused and called him.
The cop, instead of reprimanding him for the crime, gave him a moral lecture on being a ‘good citizen’. Prashant on the other hand, yelled at the cop. He said that he was in cahoots with the country’s top politicians and that it would take him a minute to throw me, a ‘Pakistani’, out of the country. I was shocked at what he said, but the cop was unmoved.
After hanging up, according to the cop, the case was resolved. He resisted filing an FIR.
Dejected, Shaheen left the police station. A few hours later, she received the following message:
Her friend was aware of The Quint’s and Quint NEON’s #TalkingStalking campaign to make stalking a non-bailable offence. Shaheen got in touch with us. We immediately told her to go back to the police station and file an FIR. The offences were cognisable and no cop can refuse to file an FIR.
Shaheen went back to the police station with renewed determination. This time, she didn’t leave until she got her FIR filed.
Meanwhile, Shaheen’s friends began researching the website and its ‘clients’. One Google search about the website opened a can of worms:
When my friends contacted a bunch of these people, everyone had the same story to share: The women were cyberstalked and the men were cheated.Shaheen
Shaheen informed the police about this larger online racket as well.
Where the Case Stands Now
The Quint independently tried calling Prashant’s many numbers, but all of them were ‘not available’ or went unanswered. The District Magistrate has recorded Shaheen’s statement and the cops have taken her phone for forensic examination.
But no arrests have been made so far.
The accused is thus still at large, and could be planning his next fraudulent effort.
What to Do If You’re Being Cyberstalked?
Many victims of cyber crime do not come out in the open and register a complaint –and even if they do, they are too often not taken seriously, as happened with Shaheen.
We spoke to cyber security expert Rakshit Tandon to find out what a person can do if s/he has faced any form of cyber crime. Here is what he had to say.
Make Stalking a Non-Bailable Offence
Do you know that stalking is a bailable offence under Indian criminal law? This allows stalkers to get bail without serious scrutiny, often putting victims at risk of facing acid attacks, rapes, and even murder.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB):
- There has been a 33 percent rise in stalking cases. As many as 4,699 cases were reported in 2014 and 6,266 cases were reported in 2015
- Around 26 percent of the cases ended in conviction in 2015
- Around 35 percent of the cases ended in conviction in 2014
- In 2015, 83 percent of the accused were given bail before the investigation ended
- In 2014, 85 percent of the accused were given bail before the investigation ended
- Around 60 percent of all accused were men aged between 18 and 30. Around 2 percent were juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18.
- In terms of the number of cases reported each year, only 3% in 2014, 5% in 2015 and 5% in 2016 resulted in convictions. In terms of trials, the conviction rate was 35% in 2014, but dropped to 26% in 2015 and was 26.4% in 2016.
- Importantly, the data indicates a lower than normal incidence of false cases. The NCRB’s statistics show that of the 9,800 stalking cases investigated by the police in the year, only 215 were found by them to be false. This comes out to only 2.1% of all cases investigated in the year – which is below the average percentage of false cases per crimes investigated across the country: 2.5%.
This is why The Quint has launched a petition along with Varnika Kundu and MP Shashi Tharoor to appeal that Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh make stalking a non-bailable offence. Sign our petition here.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)
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