ON JULY 1 this year, when Thane resident Ali Nawaz received a phone call about his electricity bill payment pending, he was confused as he had already made the payment. However, since the caller said that his electricity supply would be disconnected, he tried making the payment and lost Rs 4,500. That is when he realised he had been duped.
A friend advised the distraught Nawaz to call cyber crime helpline number 1930 that promised to recover money if called during the golden hour – within one hour of the crime. He quickly dialled the number but the call did not get through. He dialled multiple times — the line got cut or no one answered, following which he gave up.
Nawaz then tried the cyber crime website cybercrime.gov.in but gave up after he found the process too complicated, immediately after the harrowing experience. A few days later he tried to file an online complaint again and it took him two days to successfully register a complaint.
Nawaz then received a message with a mobile number of a personnel from the local police station who would contact him. The person, however, never called or even answered the call. A few days later, much to his bewilderment, he received an email from the portal that his query had been resolved.
Priya (name changed) had a similar experience and lost Rs 1,300 while making an online order. When she called the Mumbai Police helpline number, she was asked to call 1930. However, she could not get through even after multiple attempts. She then tried the cyber crime website and gave up after finding the process too cumbersome.
In order to find out if these were isolated incidents, The Indian Express called up the helpline number at least 15 times between August, September and October, but got through only twice. Many of the instances, there was an automated response following which the line was cut with the message “line busy”.
This has been the story of several Mumbaikars who had called up 1930 — a country wide cyber-crime helpline number, after being victims of frauds. Mumbai, considered the financial capital of the country, is plagued by cyber crimes with lakhs of rupees estimated to be lost daily to fraudsters calling from various parts of the state.
Ironically, the pilot project of the dedicated national cyber helpline number 1930, developed by the ICCC (Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre), was carried out in Mumbai in June 2022. After the pilot was successful, it was replicated in other parts of the country.
In Maharashtra, the 1930 helpline is divided into calls coming to Mumbai and those to the rest of Maharashtra.
Earlier this year, the Maharashtra Cyber — the nodal body for cyber crimes in the state — took over the 1930 calls that came to Mumbai as well. Upset, senior officers of the Mumbai police then raised the issue with ICCC and in June, the Mumbai Police was again given the control of 1930 for calls to Mumbai.
Deputy Commissioner of Police DS Swamy, holding additional charge of cyber crime, overseeing the 1930 Mumbai helpline, said that in September, they received 262 calls per day on an average and blocked fraudulently transferred amounts of Rs 6.17 lakh every day.
Another senior officer said that in June this year, after the helpline was brought back to Mumbai Police from Maharashtra Cyber, there were some technical glitches for some time, due to which calls were not answered.
On callers not being able to get through, the officer said that till recently they had six to eight persons taking calls in one shift that was increased to 11persons to take calls from across the city. However, due a technical glitch calls from Navi Mumbai, Thane, Virar and nearby places, were flooding the helpline. As per the data provided by the Mumbai Police, of the 8,486 calls they received in September, 2,914 were from outside Mumbai.
“Till recently, we had around six to eight persons on shift taking calls that will soon be augmented to 11 per shift.
When we have enough people to take calls, people will be able to get through easily. At present, we are able to respond to at least one-third of the calls we receive with cyber complaints,” the officer added.
Another officer said that they are soon going to take up the issue of proper geo fencing so that the Mumbai helpline number does not receive calls from Thane, Navi Mumbai, Mira Bhayandar and other places around Mumbai that should go to the Maharashtra Cyber helpline.
An officer from Maharashtra cyber police that handles calls from the rest of Maharashtra said that they have 23 phone lines who have received 2,200 calls per day in the month of September and blocked Rs 33 lakh every day.
An officer from Maharashtra Cyber that caters to the rest of the state said that they receive 66,594 calls — nearly 2,200 calls per day — registered 6,670 complaints — 222 complaints per day — and recovered Rs 9.92 crore — Rs 33 lakh per day — in September.
The Maharashtra Cyber officer conceded that they have their own share of problems. They have 23 lines and have struggled to get manpower to take those calls. Initially, the cyber police used employees from Maharashtra State Security Corporation (MSSC). They left after the cyber police did not pay remuneration in time.
At present, the cyber police use home guards to take calls. A source said, “It is difficult to manage with them too as since it is a voluntary force, not everyone shows up every day.”
The officer, however, said that all these issues will be taken care of once the Maharashtra Cyber project, for which the state government has approved a whopping Rs 837 crore last month, becomes functional. A five-storey property with an area of one lakh square feet in Navi Mumbai has been taken by the government for the purpose. On one of the floors, there will be a 100-member strong call centre to take calls from across the state.
The officer said, “We are hoping the cyber project will become operational in a few months. Once that happens, the cyber police will have a better approach to calls made by cyber victims from across the state.”
The officer, however, said that it was not yet decided if calls from Mumbai will also be taken by this call centre or it will remain with the Mumbai Police Commissionerate.
However, with lakhs of rupees estimated to be lost daily in the financial capital that sees an ever-increasing number of cyber crimes, even a delay of a few months could prove costly.
When asked about the difficulty faced by citizens to register complaints on cyber crime portal, a nodal officer from Maharashtra said, “The portal caters to the entire country and hence needs as many details and faces high traffic.
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However, the team is working on it and it will soon be made much more accessible.”
Fraud calls in September
Calls received – 8,486
Calls from outside Mumbai – 2,914
Average calls answered daily – 282
Actionable calls – 2,515
Amount put on hold – Rs 1.85 crore
Average amount blocked daily – Rs 6.17 lakh
Rest of Maharashtra:
Calls received – 66,594
Average calls daily – 2,200
Complaints registered – 6,670
Amount put on hold – Rs 9.92 crore
Average amount put on hold per day – Rs 33 lakh