The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The spreading web of crime on Net
- Technology helps police confront cyber harassers of innocent family

Girl seeks friendship. Seeks friend for life.

It was messages like this on chat-rooms — along with a phone number — that had up to 700 men a day interested in “friendship” calling up a south Calcutta home. The invitations — appearing on chat-rooms from numerous log-ins, all, apparently, belonging to women — would never solicit online conversations. They would give out a phone number, insisting on more “personal” contact. When the phone calls turned into men in search of fictitious women knocking on the door, the family went to the police.

This form of cyber-harassment may be a new phenomenon, but it is a growing one. “Last year, we have seen five or six cases where people in the city have been harassed in this manner,” says deputy commissioner, detective department (special) Peeyush Pandey.

While this family, with the help of a caller-line identification gadget, could confront the callers, they could not pin down the person giving out their phone numbers. The anonymity of chat rooms allows a person to log on as just about anybody, revealing no personal information. “One of the callers told us which site he had found our number on,” explains a member of the harassed family. “I visited the site and found the person online, giving out our contact information. But we had no way of knowing who it was.”

Through various websites, it is also possible to find anyone’s address by just keying in a phone number, which is how the men found out the address in question.

But the detective department has narrowed the search, in this case, down to Bangalore. Not wishing to reveal the exact protocol involved with tracking the Net-culprit down, Pandey explains: “If the phone number is attached to a residence, it is easier to find out who is behind the act. If the messages are sent from a cyber café, it takes more time, but through more detailed investigations, we have found those guilty of similar crimes before.”

Detectives suspect this culprit has a personal vendetta, though investigations are still on. “Someone with a personal grudge would probably use a home connection, while a random harasser would go to a cyber café,” says Pandey. Pranksters, in similar cases, who have no connection to their victims, are usually “young men in their teens or early 20s”.

Using technology, it may be possible to break through the shell of anonymity the Internet provides, but investigations take time. Police also have to contend with foreign laws. “Our work can progress fast if we get the help from the website authorities from which the messages are sent. But, for example, in the US, privacy laws prevent them from divulging facts about their users’ identity,” adds the deputy commissioner.

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