58 arrested for ‘sextortion’

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Friday, May 2, 2014

MANILA (Updated) -- Fifty-eight people were arrested in several areas in Luzon for their alleged involvement in global "sextortion" activities, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said on Friday.

The PNP said the International Police (Interpol) launched the "Operation Strike Back" on April 30 and it resulted in the simultaneous arrest of 53 people in Bicol, three in Laguna, and two in Taguig City.

Authorities also recovered 268 pieces of electronic devices, such as mobile phones, identification card, laptops, desktop computers, storage devices, cameras and several automated-teller machine (ATM) cards believed to be used by the suspects in their illegal activities.

The simultaneous joint operations were conducted by the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG), Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC), Department of Justice (DOJ), Police Scotland, International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), Hong Kong Police, Singapore Police, United States Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), Child Exploitation Online Protection (CEOP) and Australian Federal Police.

The sextortion activities start with the suspects initially befriending the target through the web, usually social networking sites. Once the suspect have established friendship with the target and was able to gain his/her trust, the suspect will ask the victim to do things such as performing sexual activities through the webcam not knowing that the perpetrator is recording what they were doing in front of the camera.

The suspect will later on use the recorded video to extort money from the victim by telling him/her that he/she will publicized the video or share it with his/her friends if he/she will not send him/her money. The frightened victim will then send the suspect money ranging from P22,000 to P90,000 in exchange of deleting his/her malicious video.

"Operation Strike Back" is aimed to curb the global sextortion activities.

Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) director, said the operation stemmed from the 1st Interpol Eurasian Working Group Meeting in Singapore in November 2013, wherein members of the PNP-ACG were one of the attendees. The meeting highlighted the growing number of sextortion victims in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, United Kingdom (UK) and the United States.

The meeting resulted in the formulation of a joint investigation model to combat the increasing sextortion cases worldwide, which was followed by intelligence sharing between cybercrime departments of Hong Kong, Singapore, Scotland, United Kingdom, Australia, Philippines and other countries through Interpol that linked victims and cybercrime cases among these countries.

A 2nd Operational Meeting in Singapore was held on March by the Interpol Digital Crime Centre. It was participated by payment systems and judicial representatives.

With the help of various international information technologists, the authorities were able to trace the suspects with the use of their IP address and the payment mode or the money trail.

Sosa said the collected electronic evidences will be preserved to establish the case to be filed against the arrested suspects.

Earlier, 17-year-old Daniel Perry from Scotland committed suicide after engaging in a web chat. Little did he know that their activities are being recorded. He then received threats, saying that his video will be broadcasted worldwide if he will not send money to the one keeping it.

Perry told the Filipino suspect that he does not have any money to pay them. He later on killed himself for fear of having it exposed.

"Right now, we are still in the process of investigating and identifying the person responsible for Perry’s action," Garry Cunningham of Scotland Police said in the said press briefing.

Among other countries worldwide where issues regarding sextortion are increasing, it is in the Philippines where the said inter-agency operation was first conducted.

Asked if they consider the Philippines as the "Sextortion Capital of the World," Sanjay Virmani, director of Interpol said, "definitely not."

He said they conducted it first in the Philippines because they have seen the willingness and dedication of the PNP to cooperate with the operation.

UK Ambassador in the Philippines Asif Ahmad added that the Filipinos should not be demoralized with authorities having conducted such operation here in the country first, but instead, "they should be celebrating because the PNP is doing something to address these kind of illegal activities."

The arrested suspects are now in the custody of PNP-ACG for further investigation. The authorities, including those from international bureaus, said they will continue to investigate.

"Our scope is global and we will use this particular operation as a model going forward in trying to solve this particular crime," Virmani said.

"We are taking a hard look in this particular activity and hopefully, it can open up doors to other countries and in law enforcement to totally stop this kind of illegal activity known worldwide," he added. (Sunnex)

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