… police say awareness is the best option

Lhakpa Quendren 

Recently, a corporate employee Dechen, received a weird message on social media from one of her close friends asking for Nu 10,000 to buy a flight ticket to Australia.

“I really need your help. I will be using the money tomorrow for my flight. I will pay it back in a month. This is my friend’s account. When are you sending it?” The scammer texted sharing a BoB account number, belonging to a woman.

After the scammer rejected the voice call, Dechen called her friend to see if it was her. The real account holder was already trying to retrieve her Facebook account saying she has been receiving several calls from other friends with the same queries.

However, not everyone is as careful as Dechen and many Bhutanese continue to fall prey to online scams despite the Royal Bhutan Police and relevant agencies warning them against such scams.

Every year there has been a growing number of online scams in which fraudsters, after hacking into the accounts, send text messages pretending to be the real account holder.

Many scam victims including those who were targeted by scammers take to social media to share their experiences intending to help others avoid falling prey to such scams.

Some victims who lost thousands of Ngultrums reported to the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP). However, the police continue to face the challenge of effectively addressing the problem. Many such cases go unreported due to the complexity.

Police officials say that online scams are difficult to track and can take a long time to be detected because it requires producing a lot of supporting evidence and documentation.   

Deputy Chief of Police, Colonel Passang Dorji said that it is difficult to deal with online scam cases. “When people report it to the police, we do what we can. If we know, we are happy to help. But we can do nothing beyond ourselves.”

He said that the RBP doesn’t have the full capacity for cybercrime-dealing as yet. “We don’t have (capacity) to such an extent that we can investigate and be successful in all the cybercrimes. We are in the process of developing that.”

The RBP currently has a cybercrime unit for mobile and computer tracing and plans for a forensic laboratory operation to address the issue of online scams.

However, challenges remain due to a lack of budget on top of the already thinly-spread resources.

“We have to send the officers for training and have the required equipment to fight against cybercrime,” Colonel Passang Dorji said, adding that it would materialise depending on the country’s economic situation.

“We are not blaming anyone here, we are blaming the situation. The economic situation has to improve, and the government has to come to a normal situation,” he said.

He said that the fight against cybercrime is everyone’s responsibility. “We have to ask ourselves what is happening and how things can improve.”

“Our people believe in false promises and fall prey to them. This is about common sense,” he added. “Individuals should be aware, responsible and perform responsibility as smart citizens.”