Province seeing drastic upsurge in incidents of online fraud, data theft, social media stalking, online harassment.
LAHORE: As access to cell phones, computers, and most importantly the internet has increased in the country in the past decade, an unprecedented upsurge in cyber crimes has been witnessed in Pakistan’s most populated province.
Punjab, which is home to more than half the country’s headcount as per the digital census of 2023, also accounts for the most crimes in the country; and a significant number of these crimes are now cyber in nature.
In the last 5 years alone, there have been thousands of reports of online fraud, cyber stalking, hate speech, and theft of government data coming out of the province. And data obtained by The Express Tribune from the country’s apex investigation agency, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), highlight the rising trend of cyber crime in the province.
As per the records, the most reported cases of cyber crime in Punjab, during the past 5 years, are of financial and electronic fraud, with a rate of 15 to 19 cases per day.A breakdown of the number of such incidents from 2018 to August of 2023 shows that a total of 31,930 incidents were reported in five years: 657 in 2018, 2,005 in 2019, 7,055 in 2020, 9,818 in 2021, 9,492 in 2022, and 10,000 reported until August of 2023. The second highest reported cases in the same time period were that of theft of public and private data, with 19,749 total incidents up until August.
1,514 of these were reported in 2018, 2,952 in 2019, 7,499 in 2020, 4,590 in 2021, 3,944 in 2022, and 2,960 cases so far this year. In third place: social media stalking, with a total of 19,551 incidents until August of this year, translating into 12 per day. 535 of these were reported in 2018, 1,972 in 2019, 5,008 in 2020, 7,754 in 2021, 6,746 in 2022, and 5,000 have been reported so far in 2023. Cyber harassment and defamation cases stand in fourth place, with 2,957 incidents reported from 2018 to August of 2023.
Out of these 108 were reported in 2018, 430 in 2019, 1,030 in 2020, 1,090 in 2021, 1,160 in 2022, and 2,000 incidents have been reported up until August of this year. Former director general (DG) of the FIA, Khadim Hussain Bhatti, when asked about the drastic upsurge in cyber crime, told The Express Tribune that methods of perpetuating crime have evolved with the advent of technology. “Part of the reason why crimes of such nature have increased is because the common man is not aware of the intricacies of the internet; hence he falls prey to fraudsters,” explained Bhatti, further adding that the government has not done much to educate the public about the type of cyber crimes.
“The best place to start educating the public about the harms of the internet would be to include it in the educational curriculum,” the former DG suggested. Director for the FIA’s cyber crime wing in Punjab, Jahanzeb Nazir, concurring with Bhatti, said that the FIA is now looking into organising lectures on cyber crime in schools and colleges to create awareness. “We are aware of the rise in cyber crime and therefore have recruited more manpower to tackle the issue seriously. We are also trying to process complaints faster than ever and will be able to curb the menace soon,” assured Nazir while talking to The Express Tribune.