MANILA, May 2 – Fifty-eight people have been arrested in the Philippines for their involvement in a giant, global Internet “sextortion” network, local police and Interpol announced on Friday.
Victims have been lured by people posing as attractive, young women into giving sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves online, then blackmailed sometimes repeatedly for many thousands of dollars, the authorities said.
The 58 arrested in the Philippines were just a small part in an expanding global phenomenon that is being fuelled by the explosion of social media, the director of Interpol’s Digital Crime Centre, Sanjay Virmani said.
“The scale of this extortion network is massive,” Virmani said.
Philippine police chief Alan Purisima said the 58 Filipinos arrested would be charged over a range of crimes, including engaging in child pornography, extortion and using technologies to commit fraud.
Purisima said the scam typically involved the fake woman making contact with people overseas via Facebook and other social media, then seeking to establish a relationship with them.
“After getting acquainted with the victims… they engage in cybersex, and this will be recorded unknown to the victims,” he said, adding webcams were used to record sexually explicit conversations and actions.
“They then threaten to release it to friends and relatives.”
Purisima said victims paid between hundreds or thousands of dollars, sending their payments via Western Union and other money transfer remittance companies.
While he said elderly men were often targeted, senior representatives of foreign police agencies also attending the press conference said minors were also victims.
Detective chief inspector Gary Cunningham, from the Scottish police force’s major investigation team who also briefed reporters, said one teenager in Scotland had committed suicide after being extorted.
Cunningham said the boy was 17 when he killed himself.