MANILA (Philippines): “Sextortion” activities worldwide, including in the Philippines, have become widespread that local and international police are moving to curb if not eliminate them.
“(There is) a growing number of sextortion victims in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, United Kingdom and the United States with potential victims in Australia, Korea and Malaysia,” Philippine police chief Alan Purisima said in a statement on Friday.
Interpol's Digital Crime Centre director Sanjay Virmani told INQUIRER.net at the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame that it appeared that “separate groups were working because obviously, it takes low investment to do this”.
United Kingdom Ambassador Asif Ahmad said in a press briefing that “sextortion does not respect any nationality… this is a serious and growing problem.”
Local and international police officials got together Friday on the invitation of the PNP, which started a crackdown on “sextortion” activities in the country under Operation “Strikeback” on November 2013.
The operation has since netted 58 suspects from Taguig City and the provinces of Laguna, Bulacan and Bicol.
According to Purisima, the Filipinos arrested would be charged over a range of crimes, including engaging in child pornography, extortion and using technologies to commit fraud.
Detective chief inspector Gary Cunningham, from the Scottish police force's major investigation team told reporters that one teenager in Scotland had committed suicide after being extorted.
Cunningham said the boy was 17 when he killed himself.
More than 530 people in Hong Kong, many aged between 20 and 30, have fallen victim to the scam since the beginning of last year, according to Chief Inspector Louis Kwan, from the Chinese territory's police commercial crime bureau.
Kwan said Hong Kong victims had paid up to US$15,000 in desperate attempts to keep the sexually compromising material private.
But, once hooked, the victims sometimes found they could not escape.
Kwan said some victims paid up to three times before going to the police, "when they realised they could no longer afford to continue paying".
However, authorities emphasised the Philippines was not the hub of the global "sextortion" scams, only that the current investigation had focused on the South-East Asian nation.
"These crimes are not limited to any one country and nor are the victims. That's why international cooperation in investigating these crimes is essential," Interpol's Virmani said.
“Sextortion” is a combination of sex and extortion where a suspect blackmails a victim who has been recorded performing sexual acts online, which include posing nude in front of a webcam.
The blackmailer then uses the video or image to extort more sexual favours or money from the victim in exchange for keeping the recording in his possession and not spreading it online.
Other countries involved in the operation against “sextortion” are Hong Kong, Singapore, Scotland, United Kingdom, and Australia. – ANN/Philippine Inquirer/AFP