Modern times and technology have broken barriers, especially those of territory and geographical jurisdiction. Criminals earlier used to commit crimes in one area or jurisdiction and then flee to other territories or jurisdictions. This concept, now, is becoming irrelevant and archaic.
A criminal now doesn't necessarily have to travel physically to commit crimes. His physical presence can be substituted by the virtual presence and the damage a criminal can afflict can not even be predicted or dreamt of.
Currently, the damages inflicted are more or less predictable – financial frauds, money laundering, computer and IT systems compromise, ransomware attacks, or even downing of power, communication and transport gridlines.
However, most such crimes are perpetrated by smaller groups or individuals rather than organised criminal gangs. Moreover, a vast numerical majority of victims are individuals. People who earn a livelihood by toil and fall prey to the criminals through trickery or treachery or greed or ignorance – in most cases, a combination of these.
The criminals and perpetrators use threats to seek immediate transfer of funds: these are offences under IT Act as well as Indian Penal Code.
Government of India has come up with a helpline – 1930 – to prevent the criminals from accessing and withdrawing money from accounts in criminal cases.
Apparently hundreds of crores of rupees worth of such withdrawals have been blocked by using this 1930 helpline.
There are three small measures that could help bring the conmen and gangs to book.
In the 1930 helpline, the authorities/developers ought to add a simple 'red flag' if the victim reports a transaction.
Shifting the theatre of investigation and prosecution itself could help neutralise the organised criminals effectively and quickly.
We need to make our jurisdiction co-terminus with the presence of an Indian citizen anywhere in the world.
India's 1930 Helpline Inadequate to Combat Cyber Crimes
Thankfully, the Government of India has come up with a helpline – 1930 – to prevent the criminals from accessing and withdrawing money from bank accounts in such cases. The banks are duty-bound to block withdrawals and, apparently, hundreds of crores of rupees worth of such withdrawals have been blocked by using this 1930 helpline.
However, once the blocking has been done, the process, apparently ends. The victim does get his money back but the criminal moves on to another target wiser. With the impunity that accompanies a failed attempt, next target is approached with a better and refined modus operandi – newer bank account, newer tricks and conversation skills, and better ways to obtain the OTPs and personal particulars.
The victim is happy that his loss is recovered and the police and law enforcers content that they do not have to spend 'wasteful hours' in trying to catch petty conmen who have defrauded victims with 'salami slicing' strategies.
Law enforcers remain oblivious and mute to the possibility that there are perhaps hundreds of victims who have been conned but have not got back their earnings.
Three Ways of Making 1930 Helpline More Efficient
Perhaps, some small measures could help bring the conmen and gangs to book. There are three which I would suggest are the following:
red flagging the suspicious transactions,
case registration and prosecutions being done where the accused is/are found, and
shifting the jurisdiction for investigation and prosecution.
In the 1930 helpline, the authorities/developers ought to add a simple 'red flag' if the victim reports a transaction. The account which has been used to receive the money should not only be blocked but also automatically raise an alarm to the bankers and the police agencies if the perpetrator tries to withdraw the money.
Red Flags to Deal with Mule Accounts
In most cases, the money is deposited in fake or impersonated bank accounts, more often referred to as 'mule accounts'. These mule accounts receive money only temporarily before it is drawn in cash or through ATMs. If the 'mule accounts' used by the criminals can be integrated with the 'banking system alerts' in such a manner that once blocked, all attempts to withdraw money could automatically lead to the preservation of the CCTV footages at the ATMs, the criminals would be easy to catch.
The alerts and preserved footages could automatically be shared with the police authorities so that interventions and prosecutions could be quick, rather than the current scenario where follow-up is either absent or so tedious or cumbersome that hardly any such criminals are arrested because of constraints of time and the cost-benefit analysis.
This should not be a difficult thing to achieve and integrate, technologically.
Shifting the Theatre of Investigation
The second suggestion is a mid-way attempt to bridge the jurisdiction-investigation gap and speed up the process of neutralising criminals in a speedy and efficient manner. Currently, most police officials take recourse to the 'jurisdiction not being made out' to deny registration of FIRs. In most IT frauds, the victim, the place of occurrence, and the criminal are hundreds or thousands of miles apart – physically as well as virtually. This leads to problems and gives an easy alibi for avoiding registration of FIRs.
Sometimes "zero FIRs" do get registered but these haven't been an effective mechanism in even traditional crimes. Clearly, with IT crimes, this gap cannot be left unabridged.
Perhaps, the registration of FIRs wherever an accused is found is a better option and needs to be incorporated into the Code of Criminal Procedure in India.
This legal infirmity being attended to would also come in handy in for other organised crimes like arms trafficking, drugs trafficking, insurgency, and terror related crimes and criminals, where, shifting the theatre of investigation and prosecution itself could help neutralise the organised criminals effectively and quickly.
Shifting of Jurisdiction to Location of Victim/Accused
The third is the suggestion which Haryana Police seems to have appropriated – shifting of jurisdiction from place of the occurrence of crime (the current practice) to either be co-terminus with either wherever the victim is or wherever the accused is found. This, a suggestion that I proferred during a recent meeting was remarked as 'out of the box' by Special Secretary, MHA Ms Sundari Nanda.
The basic premise for this paradigm suggest was that in most cases the victims are either deficient in resources or have moved on or that the individual losses to victims are so petty that the law enforcers are 'not interested' in wasting their precious time to investigate and prosecute across multiple jurisdictions and service providers.
However, if we just turn a new page in the concept of jurisdiction, most such problems would be sorted out. A mere complaint from a complainant and the 1930 block and 'red flags' could be sufficient proof for prosecuting the accused who try to draw the defrauded amount.
The jurisdiction issue would be helpful not merely in sorting out IT frauds but also legally enable and strengthen the capacity of the Indian State to protect citizens and their rights and well-being anywhere in the world.
The American jurisdiction is co-terminus with the presence of an American citizen anywhere in the world and we need to do it, too – domestically and internationally. This will also help us assert ourselves strategically and diplomatically on the world stage, commensurate to our enhanced status as a 'global power'.
(The author is the Director General Of Police in Nagaland. He tweets @rupin1992. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)