It used to be Nigerian email phishers and scammers. Now it is Filipino sextortionists. It is big business, described to be “industrial” in scale in a Washington Post report involving using fake social media accounts to get in touch with victims overseas (usually in affluent countries) and trick them into exposing themselves on Webcams. The images would then be recorded by the sextortionists and used to blackmail the victims.
It would take the tragic death of seventeen-year-old Daniel Perry in 2013 in Scotland to spur an international team of police officers to trace the operations to the Philippines and lead action against the crime’s perpetrators there. Perry reportedly committed suicide after he was repeatedly harrassed by online con artists who had recorded him doing embarrassing acts he had been tricked into performing online.
Perry’s problem started when he met a woman on the website ask.fm a few months before he committed suicide. Scottish investigators said Perry had been tricked into doing sexual acts before his computer, which were recorded by syndicate members without his knowledge.
Scottish police found the exchanges between Perry and the syndicate members, Senior Supt. Gilbert Sosa of the PNP-ACG told the news conference.
Perry was begging the extortionists not to release his [sex] videos because he did not have money, Sosa said.
The modus operandi of the racket is evidently straightforward and exploits a very primal aspect of the human condition…
According to Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima, the syndicates had created provocative, alluring and entirely fictitious social media accounts to entice unwitting victims into live cybersex activities. The criminal groups would then secretly record the footage, before threatening to expose the victims to their friends and families unless they handed over between US$500 and US$2,000.
Hong Kong police inspector Louis Kwan Chung-yin said more than 470 people from Hong Kong were blackmailed in this way last year, while about 160 had been stung so far this year. In one case, a victim paid the equivalent of US$15,000, he said, adding that the victims were of various ages.
Similar cases of high-profile online crimes have been traced to the Philippines and investigations and arrests mounted in local operations spurred by foreign agencies. In January 2014, the Philippines was identified as “a key hub of the billion-dollar global child cybersex industry”, something that probably would not have bothered the Philippine police much had the incidence of victims in affluent countries not emerged.
Indeed, cybercrime has only recently entered the national consciousness. Philippine anti-cybercrime laws were only recently passed and enacted after being widely-derided by social media “activists” as a prelude to “Cyber Martial Law” drawing on the collective fears of Filipinos who were supposedly erstwhile “victims” of a more conventional form of Martial Law implemented by the late former President Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s.
The multinational police operation that resulted in the arrest of suspects involved in this instance of sextortion is likely to have been made possible by these new laws which, upon issuance of proper court documentation, allows law-enforcement agencies to gather data deemed essential to cracking such cases. Section 12 of Republic Act 10175 stipulates…
Law enforcement authorities, with due cause, shall be authorized to collect or record by technical or electronic means traffic data in real-time associated with specified communications transmitted by means of a computer system.
Traffic data refer only to the communication’s origin, destination, route, time, date, size, duration, or type of underlying service, but not content, nor identities.
All other data to be collected or seized or disclosed will require a court warrant.
Service providers are required to cooperate and assist law enforcement authorities in the collection or recording of the above-stated information.
Indeed, there is a dark underbelly to the unprecedented freedom and social connectivity made possible by 21st Century technology loudly trumpeted by social media mavens.
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