Change your privacy settings to ‘only me’, thoroughly check the newly received friend requests before accepting it and put your thumb on the front camera before accepting a video call from an unknown caller – this is the advice shared by the Uttar Pradesh Police Cyber Crime Unit and experts to people from falling prey to honey trapping, as sextortion gangs are on the prowl in the state.
Bureaucrats, lawyers, doctors and even retired police officers have all been easy targets of the notorious sextortion gang that is quite active in UP these days.
In last one year, UP has recorded more than 105 cases of honey trap/sextortion and six cases where the victims couldn’t muster enough courage to fight back and in turn chose to end their life.
Uttar Pradesh Police Cyber Crime Unit that has issued an advisory defining dos and don’ts for the social media users to tackle the honey trap attempts says “awareness is the only key that can avert such incidents and to keep the extortionists at bay”.
Who is Dr Chauhan – the Latest Victim of Sextortion?
Among several cases where the victim has chosen to commit suicide than fighting their perpetrator is of Ayurveda medical practitioner Dr AS Chauhan, from Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district.
People known to Dr Chauhan said he was a jovial man until October 20, 2022, when he received a call that turned his life upside down. “It all started with a call. A girl, who claimed herself to be a BSc nursing student, Priya, called up Dr Chauhan multiple times and tried to be friendly with him,” said a senior police officer with Subhashnagar Police Station, Bareilly, where the incident was reported.
“On October 20, 2022, the girl called him again and requested Dr Chauhan to attend to her ailing mother who is in need of urgent medical attention. On her request, the doctor agreed but the moment he reached her place, which was nearby, the girl enticed the doctor to indulge into acts and soon after two people barged into the room and clicked some pictures and videos of the doctor and then the vicious circle of blackmailing started,” a senior police officer familiar with the case said.
Dr Chauhan lodged an FIR with the Bareilly Police on December 4, 2022, but came under intense pressure when the girl and her accomplices threatened him to make his videos viral on social media.
All Women Gang Busted
However, after seven months of investigation and death of Dr Chauhan, the police have finally exposed a gang of women who honey-trapped and extorted the doctor, an army personnel and several government employees in Bareilly, the police officials told News18.
Then Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Prabhakar Chowdhary had confirmed that the woman, who was arrested in June in connection with Dr Chauhan’s case, has been identified as Himani Sharma (22), who hails from Badaun district. “During interrogation, Himani Sharma, who had introduced herself as Priya to Dr Chauhan told that it is an all-women gang run by a woman named Madhu, and they both have extorted more than Rs 9 lakh from seven persons, including Dr Chauhan, two army personnel, a contractor, a government official and a businessman in the last three years,” Chowdhary said.
Six Suicides in One Year, Over 105 Cases Reported in UP
This is just a tip of the iceberg. According to the data with the UP Police’s Cyber Crime Unit, more than 105 cases of honey trap and six cases of suicides (due to sextortion) have been reported in the state in just one year. Cybercrime officials, however, did not deny the fact that there must be hundreds of other unreported cases.
Gang is Hyperactive in Rajasthan, UP, Haryana
“Other than Dr Chauhan’s case, there are several other cases of honey trapping, where the girl calls men, especially those who are middle aged and entice them to indulge into nude video calls and then capture their videos to blackmail people. Such cases are becoming rampant these days in UP. In our investigation, we have concluded that the sextortion gang is highly active in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur, UP’s Mathura and Haryana’s Nuh district. There are many politicians, doctors, and government employees who have fallen prey to the sextortion gang. I believe that awareness is the only key to avert such sextortion calls,” said Triveni Singh, superintendent of police (SP) Cyber Crime, UP Police.
Social Media Users Easy Targets
While highlighting the modus operandi of the sextortion gang, Triveni Singh said cyber criminals use platforms such as messaging and dating apps, Facebook, Instagram and matrimonial sites to target people. These scammers create fake profiles with photographs of attractive women on leading social media platforms and send friend requests to identified men. Once the request is accepted, the scammers observe their likes and dislikes and then try to be friendly with the users.
Cyber Crime Unit’s Advisory
The Cyber Crime Unit has also issued an advisory, defining dos and don’ts for social media users. The UP Police has also urged people to report sextortion attempts immediately to a nearby police station or dial 1930 or report online at www.cybercrime.gov.in.
DR Rakshit Tandon, National Cyber Security Expert, said social media users should be extremely cautious in their interaction online. “It is requested that people should not accept video calls from any unknown or just made friends. Don’t click on any unknown links sent during chats. Keep all your social media accounts protected with privacy of friends list to ‘only me’… If any such attempt is made, call 1930 and report on www.cybercrime.gov.in,” said Tandon.
If you or someone you know needs help, call any of these helplines: Aasra (Mumbai) 022-27546669, Sneha (Chennai) 044-24640050, Sumaitri (Delhi) 011-23389090, Cooj (Goa) 0832- 2252525, Jeevan (Jamshedpur) 065-76453841, Pratheeksha (Kochi) 048-42448830, Maithri (Kochi) 0484-2540530, Roshni (Hyderabad) 040-66202000, Lifeline 033-64643267 (Kolkata)