Two such cases have been reported to Mumbai police in the past month. Though they are yet to track down the sender, they have managed to unearth a bizarre truth, that of the 'masked SMS'. The user has to register on a website (for as little as $10) and can send text messages to and from any mobile number on the planet without being identified.
Mumbai police have managed to track down two or three websites that are used to send masked messages and are collaborating with IT experts to get to the bottom of the matter. "We have received two complaints in the last one month where the sender's number was camouflaged," joint commissioner of police (crime) Rakesh Maria told TOI on Saturday.
IT industry sources said, "It's rare for the real miscreant to be caught in such a situation because people might register under false identities and also commit credit card fraud to pay the small registration fee," says IT expert Vijay Mukhi.
If caught, can the culprit be charged under our laws? "Yes," says IT expert Vijay Mukhi. "Section 66 A of the IT Act talks about sending offensive messages using any communication device, Section 66 C is the identity theft section and Section 66 D the cheating by impersonation section." A pornographic message will be charged under Section 66 E, while Section 66 F is quoted in the case of cyber terrorism.
If proved, the offence of identity theft attracts a 3-year jail term plus a cash fine of upto Rs 1 lakh in India. While there is a misuse of computer act that is invoked in such cases in the US, the law in India is still inadequate to handle such innovative mobile spoofing. "Based on our findings we will decide what action should be taken against these websites. If need be, we could pull them down as well," he added.
The masked SMS service is easy to operate. Giving TOI a demo, the IT expert logged on and sent this reporter an SMS from his colleague's number with utmost ease. Of course, the friend had no record of the said message in his outbox. Senior Nasscom officials say these websites can be blocked but it's long process.
Can anything be done at all? "Not immediately," says Mukhi. "As of now, one just has to be careful and cross-check the credibility of a message before filing a complaint." He added that the need of the hour is to spread awareness about the problem. "Time was when wi-fi was misused but we've managed to tackle that. Camouflaging is a dangerous issue and must be dealt with seriously and immediately," he added.