Bhoomi Trivedi Case: Mumbai Police To Investigate High-Profile Social Media Marketing Influencers Fraud

The case of fake social media racket run under the name of singer Bhoomi Trivedi has prompted Mumbai Police to investigate the business of fake social media accounts and the high-profile social media marketing influencers fraud. Recently, Nigerian Instagram influencer Hushpuppi was kidnapped by FBI for £350 million cyberscam, a transnational conspiracy providing safe havens for stolen money around the world.

  • The case of fake racket run under the name of singer Bhoomi Trivedi has prompted Mumbai Police to investigate the business of fake social media accounts
  • Mumbai Police have now agreed to widen the scope of the investigation and study what is being referred to as the “social media marketing influencers fraud”
  • An officer expressed that it would be delightful to watch if the police are able to enlist cases against the people managing social media accounts for political parties
  • This makes it likely that there will be political resistance to any step taken against this issue
  • But no specific law in India deals with cases involving only the buying and selling of fake accounts
  • Without any specific law, police can take recourse to Section 468 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with committing forgery of a document or electronic record for the purposes of cheating
Bhoomi Trivedi Case Mumbai Police To Investigate High-Profile Social Media Marketing Influencers Fraud
Bhoomi Trivedi Case Mumbai Police To Investigate High-Profile Social Media Marketing Influencers Fraud

Arrest of Abhishek Daude

Earlier this week, the Mumbai Police arrested a 20-year-old man for creating a fake profile of Bollywood playback singer Bhoomi Trivedi. In interrogation the accused Abhishek Daude conveyed that there are various such companies that sell followers and ‘likes’ on social media.

Mumbai Police have now agreed to widen the scope of the investigation, and study what is being referred to as the “social media marketing influencers fraud”.

Singer Bhoomi Trivedi Case Investigation

The chat logs of a fake Instagram account created under the name of Bhoomi Trivedi that in a way showed her in evident negotiations for purchasing fake followers were utilized by Daude to persuade more people to pay for attaining more followers.

As Trivedi noticed the alleged racket being run in her name, she eventually approached the Mumbai Police Commissioner. An offence was registered immediately. The police then arrested Kurla resident Daude.

What the investigation revealed

This investigation revealed that Daude is part of a racket creating crores of fraud identities on numerous social media platforms. From these activities they produce fake performance statistics such as followers, comments, and views — all fraud.

Daude had a whopping 176 profiles on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook, etc., through these he has amassed over 5 lakhs followers.

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How big is this illegal business?

In an investigation Swedish e-commerce start-up A Good Company and analytics firm HypeAuditor assessed 1.84 million Instagram accounts across 82 countries last year. It was found that the top three markets with the largest numbers of fake accounts were the United States (49 million), Brazil (27 million), and India (16 million). The researchers talked to about 400 influencers, and surprisingly 60 per cent of them verified that they had bought followers, likes, or comments at some point.

Apart from these social media influencers, services of these fake accounts or bots (software application that imitates human behaviour) are even used by political parties, celebrities, and in film promotions.

These firms employ fake accounts to begin trending a specific hashtag, which could be a movie’s name before the release date. These websites then run ‘offers’ such as 500 Instagram likes for Rs 250, and 1,000 Twitter followers for Rs 1,449.

What would be the next step?

The use of these services is widespread and these are utilized in so many sectors, so this is not going to be an easy task for the police. An officer expressed that it would be delightful to watch if the police are able to enlist cases against the people managing social media accounts for political parties.

As of now, in investigation, police have figured out that there are more than hundred Social Media Marketing (SMM) portals that sell fake followers; currently 54 have been identified, these will be called for questioning. According to the police, they will likely book the companies providing these services and, “depending on whether the client knew about these illegal methods or not”, a judgment will be taken.

Is it illegal or unethical?

This is actually the first time that police have announced they will be registering offences against those providing these services. However the law enforcement agencies have not said anything as such. In Trivedi’s case, a fake profile of the singer was created, here, it was evidently a criminal offence of impersonation. But, no specific law in India deals with cases involving only the buying and selling of fake accounts.

Without any specific law, police can take recourse to Section 468 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with committing forgery of a document or electronic record for the purposes of cheating, Supreme Court advocate and cyber law expert Karnika Seth said. “Since a fake account is an electronic record that can be used to misrepresent, one could book a person under that,” she said. Cyber expert Vicky Shah, was of the opinion that proving such a case in a court of law would be tough. 

How do other countries approach this?

In January 2019, the Attorney General of New York state, Letitia James, declared a precedent-setting settlement over the sale of fake followers, ‘likes’, and views on social media platforms, including Twitter and YouTube, using fake activity from false accounts. In October 2019, the Singapore government is said to have announced the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, 2019, which comprises measures to detect, control, and safeguard against coordinated inauthentic behaviour and other misuses of online accounts and bots.

Why is such a law needed in India?

Pawan Duggal, a Cyber Lawyer said, there is a clear need for legal provisions to deal with this issue of a policy vacuum. Even, several politicians and political parties are using these services to strengthen their social media profiles. This makes it likely that there will be political resistance to any step taken against this issue.

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