– ADVOCATE PUNEET BHASIN, CYBER LAW EXPERT, CYBERJURE LEGAL CONSULTING
Fake profiles on social media are a problem most users face. Fake profiles of celebrities are rampant, as are also profiles with fake names and details. It’s definitely alarming that there has been a 168% rise in cyber crimes in the last one year.
As reported by CNN in 2012, in an updated regulatory filing released Wednesday, the Facebook said that 8.7 percent of its 955 million monthly active users worldwide are actually duplicate or false accounts. That is around 83.03 million fake accounts which they are trying to regulate or disable. And this is the statistics of fake accounts on just one social networking website.
It is very interesting that now-a-days many real world thefts have their roots in social media. Burglars are creating networks of fake profiles to target potential victims, as such connections allow them to uncover a variety of personal information about users and their whereabouts, making their homes an easier target.
The survey found that 56% of social media users had discussed an event, evening or holiday plans ‘wall to wall’ on Facebook, potentially providing opportunities for them to be targeted by criminals.
By befriending a number of the target user’s other friends beforehand, the victim is even more likely to accept the fake friend, inadvertently giving the burglar access to all their personal information.
The cases of Cyber extortion have also increased owing to excessive personal data available in social networking profiles, and this data is accessible to fake profiles in your friend list.
When we come across a fake profile, the first step is to report the same to the service provider like facebook or twitter. Most of these Intermediaries/ Service Providers have facility for reporting and blocking fake profiles.
For example, in the case of facebook the following procedure has to be followed to report an abusive page:
- Go to the Page you want to report
- Click below the Page’s cover photo
- Select Report Page
- Choose the reason you’re reporting the Page and click Continue
Facebook will then review the reported material and remove anything that violates their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. If warranted they also warn or disable the person responsible.
The following procedure has to be followed to report a fake account that’s pretending to be you or a public figure:
Fake Timelines created to imitate real people (impostor accounts) are not allowed on Facebook. If someone created an account pretending to be you:
- Go to the Timeline
- Click … and then select Report
- Click Report this account
- Click This person is pretending to be me or someone I know and then complete the on-screen directions
- Click Submit to Facebook for Review
SECTION 66D of the Information Technology Act, 2000 deals with CHEATING BY PERSONATION USING COMPUTER OR COMPUTER DEVICE, which brings within its ambit fake social media profiles.
Whoever, by means for any communication device or computer resource cheats by personating, shall be punished with Imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees.
This brings into its ambit:
- Making a social networking profile in a fake name.
- Making a social networking profile in some other person’s name.
- Performing social networking activity in such other name.
- Sending emails or messages from some other person’s email id or messaging account.
However, in most cases the purpose of making a fake social media profile has a hidden criminal intention of the perpetrator. It is either means to commit the cyber crimes of cyber stalking, cyber defamation.
Both these cyber crimes are punishable under Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which makes “using a computer or communication device to send data which is injurious or offensive” an offence. It states that:
Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,-
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages
shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
Explanation: For the purposes of this section, terms “Electronic mail” and “Electronic Mail Message” means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, image, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.
The offence of cyber stalking involves using a computer or communication device to send information which is grossly offensive, menacing , annoying, and intimidating for a victim.
There are many cases where victims are threatened that if they do not pay money to the perpetrator, their photos would be morphed or any other form of humiliation will have to be faced by them.
Cyber defamation involves using a computer or communication device to make false statements about a person and cause insult and humiliation to such person. Apart from legal recourse under cyber laws, the victim has legal redress under the law of torts too.
IDENTIFYING THE REAL FACE BEHIND THE FAKE ACCOUNT
Advanced Cyber Forensic Tools and analysis of log files has made it possible to trace the real people behind fake profiles. Their names and addresses can be easily traced in order to take legal action against them.
A victim must file a complaint with the cyber crime cell or Adjudicating Officer in the format mentioned in the Infromation Technology Act, 2000 with the fees payable.
Also, the victim must contact the intermediary to take temporary action against the offender.
It is always advisable to interact with people you personally know on social media, however, if you do interact with people you don’t know well it is best to check out mutual friends.
If you do spot any fake profiles on social media, you must report the same, as you not only will save yourself from cyber crimes, but also many others who could fall prey to such scammers.