A city-based lecturer was put behind bars earlier this year, following a police complaint lodged by his estranged wife. The charge: he put up an offensive post about his wife on the social networking site, Facebook.

Over the last few months, the Chennai City Police have witnessed a steady increase in the number of complaints pertaining to Facebook users. So far this year (until the end of June), the office of the Commissioner of Police has received 26 complaints in this regard. Five persons have been arrested this year, including three who posted offensive comments and photographs in order to demean the victim and two who tried to extort money online.

In 2011, the Cyber Crime Cell of the Central Crime Branch (CCB) of the city police investigated 35 complaints related to Facebook threats. Most of the problems occurred when victims added new friends online, went on to chat with them intimately, and then exchanged personal information.

According to a senior officer with the CCB, most Facebook complaints are related to impersonation, where the suspect creates a fake profile and befriends a user over a period of time. “In one case, a suspect created a particular community and lured in users. He later picked one of them, and tried to extort cash by threatening the victim with the publication of some personal photographs and information that had been exchanged between them earlier,” he said.

Rifts between spouses and lovers have also reflected in the form of vengeful posts on the social networking site. A large number of the complaints have been lodged by women. “In most cases, the complainant wants to drop the petition when she finds out that the miscreant is her own husband, boyfriend or sometimes even a friend or a relative. In a few cases, we have gone forward and arrested the man,” the CCB officer said.

Some like Janavi, (name changed) from Arumbakkam, prefer not to seek police help. “I believe it is my ex-boyfriend who is harassing me but I don’t have the courage to go to the police as I don’t want my parents to know about the relationship. I’m trying to avoid him by changing profiles,” said the youngster who now plans to quit the social networking site.

The city police’s advice to social network users is not to divulge any sensitive information to people befriended online. Complaints can be made to the Cyber Crime Cell. The identity of the complainant will remain confidential, police said.