Due to the activities carried out from the fake accounts, Saniya would often have unknown men approach her in real life and on social media.

After five years of being cyber-stalked woman gets help from govt only to hit dead endImage for representation (L), Saniya Pasricha (R)
news Cyber crime Saturday, December 10, 2016 - 15:04

Saniya Pasricha was a regular 22-year-old second year English honours student in Chandigarh when a man she had never seen before walked up to her and teased her for not recognizing her boyfriend of 10 months. It was then that she first found that someone had been living a different life for her online with a fake profile under the name of “Sanya Sharma”. 

Her shock turned to horror when she found that the fake Facebook profile was using her using her photos as well. 

“The impostor was so active that he or she would keep a tab of all my activities and post pictures of me and my friends and family. Honestly, compared to that my own Facebook profile back then looked fake, because I was so inactive on social media,” Saniya told TNM. 

With the increasing ability to access the internet and interact online, cyber-security has also become increasingly difficult to negotiate. From 2014 to 2015 cyber-crimes like phishing, scanning and malicious code increased by 20%, according to NCRB data, as per Anirban Ghoshal and Suchetana Ray’s report in Hindustan Times. Social media and chatting apps also happen most vulnerable to phishing, the report adds.

Saniya brushed off that incident as a one-off prank, and reported the profile. But she had no idea that this pattern would repeat itself multiple times over the next few years. The imposter would send people lewd messages while using her identity to posted photos of her friends and family, writes Saniya, sharing the details of her ordeal in a Facebook post on Wednesday. 

Screenshots of Saniya's post

As a result of these activities carried out from the fake accounts, Saniya would often have unknown men approach her on social media. And while some would believe her when she told them about the imposter, others didn’t take it kindly and would accuse her of pretending to not know them on purpose. 

She also writes about the indifference she was subjected to when she tried escalating the matter to the authorities.

For instance, the second time the imposter resurfaced was in May 2015, when Saniya had begun working in a media channel in Mumbai. This time, it was on Instagram. But when Saniya filed a complaint with the Cyber-crime department at Bandra-Kurla complex in Mumbai, the police continued to referring to hers as a case of fake Facebook profile despite Saniya’s clarifications that it was on Instagram. 

“The profile became defunct because I reported it but there was little headway in terms of catching the person behind it,” Saniya says. 

She also locked all her social media profiles and befriended only trusted people. She shifted back to Chandigarh in Septemeber last year. But five months ago, Saniya was once again approached by a man who claimed to know her as “Sanya Sharma”. Knowing the drill but dreading it just the same, Saniya did a little digging and found that this time, the imposter was operating using her pictures and details on WhatsApp, Snapchat and LinkedIn.

She lodged a complaint with the Cyber-crime department and also contacted the Ministry of Women and Child Development upon a friend’s suggestion. Much to her surprise and relief, she received a response within 24 hours. “I thought I would be able to know who is behind all this,” she says.

The email Saniya sent to the Ministry of Women and Child Development

But even though the police became more actively involved in her case and the profiles became defunct, the person behind it was not caught. The Ministry also informed her on Wednesday that while Saniya first noticed the fake profile in 2012, the person had been using a number registered in the name of “Sanya Sharma” for the past five years. 

“I somehow still hoped that maybe with the cellphone number we’d be able to track that person down. It seems that the imposter has gotten rid of the SIM card he/she had been using for the last 5 years and so they are unable to track it. They assured me that all the fake profiles had been taken down and therefore there was no need to worry. Also, that they were closing the case because of course there are a million cases for them to solve.” Saniya wrote on Facebook.

While her friends and family told her to find consolation in the fact that the profiles were deleted, Saniya is still restless. “This person has some 400 pictures of me. He or she is undoubtedly a person who knows me very closely, and is still out there, waiting for another chance to strike! I really don’t know what to do,” she says, her frustration apparent.

Screenshots of the fake, now defunct account

The entire experience has taken a toll on her personal relationships as well. While she trusts her group of close friends wholeheartedly, she has minimized her interaction with other acquaintances. “The doubt never leaves. Now, when they show their concern also, I am very skeptical and suspicious,” she admits. 

However, she has never considered deleting her social media profiles. “I don’t want to live in fear. I shouldn’t be the one compromising on my social life or online presence for this person,” she maintains.