Philippine police, backed by Interpol, say they have arrested 58 suspected members of a cyber-sex extortion syndicate. Users worldwide were lured into exposing themselves via webcams and then blackmailed.
Police probing internationally said Friday a growing trend toward online sex extortion had resulted in multiple arrests in the Philippines. The family of a Scottish teenage suicide victim was helping to trace perpetrators.
Philippine police chief Alan Purisima told a press conference in Manila that syndicate members posing as attractive women used social media to trick online users overseas into exposing their bodies or having cybersex.
Such acts were videoed online by the extortionists, typically from images sent by webcams attached to the user's computer devices. The recordings were made "unknown to the victim," Purisima added.
Recordings used for blackmail
The extortionists then threatened to send those recordings to relatives and friends of each user, unless they paid via money transfer remittance companies.
Payments ranged from $500 to $2000 (361 to 1,443 euros). In one case, a victim paid the equivalent of $15,000 (10,825 euros).
"The scale of these extortion networks is massive and run with just one goal in mind -- to make money regardless of the terrible emotional damage they inflict on their victims," Virmani said.
Hong Kong chief inspector Louis Kwan said since last year more than 470 people in the Chinese territory had been targeted in the scam.
Teenage suicide in Scotland
Senior Scottish police officer Gary Cunningham said a 17-year-old boy committed suicide in Scotland last year after being subjected to extortion by the syndicate.
His family had been "extremely supportive" during the international police probe, Cunningham said.
Evidence gathered in the Philippines would be used to establish the case against the individuals responsible for the teenager's death.
Cyber risk global
Philippine anti-cybercrime investigator Gilbert Sosa said the total amount extorted worldwide ran into millions of pesos, or tens of thousands of euros.
"We still have a lot of targets and suspects to be pursued," Sosa added.
British ambassador to Manila, Asif Ahmad, said cybercrime had become an "international problem."
"We are all potential victims," Ahmad said. "None of us are immune."
ipj/rg (AFP, AP)