58 arrested in global ‘sextortion’ network

Bebot Sison Jr., Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - May 3, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Fifty-eight people have been arrested in the Philippines for their involvement in a giant, global Internet “sextortion” network, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Interpol announced in a joint press conference yesterday.

Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, who heads the PNP’s Anti-Cybercrime Group, said the 58 persons were arrested in a series of raids in Biñan, Laguna; Taguig City; Bulacan; Naga City in Bicol; and Libmaan and Nabua in Camarines Sur last Wednesday as part of Operation Strikeback.

“It’s the first time we conducted these police operations,” he said.

Sosa defined sextortion as blackmailing a person from whom sexual information or images are extracted through social media, mobile phones or other online services.

“Sextortion is a very lucrative business,” he said, adding that “agents” earn P22,000 to P90,000 for each “successful” attempt.

The ACG chief said these agents also get bonuses during holidays, money or mobile phones for reaching “financial targets.”

PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima said the scam typically involved someone posing as an attractive, young 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. “They then threaten to release it to friends and relatives.”

He said victims had paid between P500 ($11) and P500,000 ($11,000).

Purisima said some of the sextortion groups operate like call centers where the operator hires men and women, sitting in rows of computer cubicles, to lure in foreign clients.

Where it started

Purisima said the operation stemmed from the 1st Interpol Eurasion Working Group Meeting in Singapore in November 2013, where there was a growing number of sextortion victims in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, United Kingdom and the US.

In the same meeting, Purisima said authorities also identified potential victims in Australia, Korea and Malaysia, during which authorities formulated a joint investigation model to combat the increasing sextortion cases worldwide.

Scotland Yard’s Gary Cunningham said in July 2013, a 17-year-old British boy jumped off the Forth Road Bridge in east central Scotland after falling victim to sextortion. The boy had no money to pay and for fear of being exposed, decided to kill himself.

“Daniel Perry was a young boy who engaged in web chat and little did he know that the (conversation would) be recorded and threats made to broadcast it worldwide. This ultimately led him to taking his own life,” Cunningham said.

He added that there was strong evidence the boy had a chat with somebody from the Philippines.

Local raids

Armed with 15 search warrants, Sosa said several teams were dispatched to four establishments in the Bicol region, particularly in Naga City, Libmanan and Nabua in Camarines Sur, and in Legazpi City.

Sosa said the group based in Bicol is considered an organized group under the companies MoneyMaker Portal Web Solutions in Naga City, Moneymagnet Portal Web Solutions in Libmanan, Money Builder Web Marketing Solutions in Nabua and Mocha Bytes Web Solutions in Legazpi City.

In Laguna and Taguig, police arrested Vincent Regori Bravo, Jomar Palacio alias Park Jiman and Gian Tolin, who reportedly extorted money from victims in the UK.

In Bulacan, Sosa said raiders arrested three persons but did not identify them.

The raiding teams seized 250 laptop and desktop computers, cell phones, SIM cards, credit and ATM cards, pornographic materials, telephones, tablets and other gadgets.

Sosa said these pieces of evidence will be analyzed by local and foreign forensic teams to identify additional victims.

Purisima said the 58 suspects were charged with violating the access devices regulation law (Republic Act 8484) and anti-child pornography law.

‘Massive scale’

Sanjay Virmani, director of the Interpol’s Digital Crime Center based in Singapore, said the “scale of these sextortion networks are massive and run with just one goal in mind – to make money regardless of personal damage they inflict on their victims.”

Police said the sextortion syndicates have collected millions of pesos from hundreds of victims based in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, United States and United Kingdom in the last three to four years.

Authorities emphasized the Philippines was not the hub of the global sextortion network, only that the current investigation had focused on the Philippines. – With AFP, Reuters


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