Sextortion: Making money from Shame

Varun Kapoor, IPS Additional Director General of Police, Narcotics and PRTS, Indore   Making money from shame has never been so easy. Technology and the virtual world have made it so simple that it has now been reduced to just a “one hour enterprise”. And there is no paucity of “ever ready” victims ready to be honey trapped and exploited. The victims in this crime are almost exclusively males but sometimes women are also targeted. Thus this is a rare category of cyber crime where the prime targets are young males because the attackers believe I is easier and faster to have a male victim lower their inhibitions and do as they desire and require.   It is very simply carried out. It is a type of social engineering attack. The criminal carries out a thorough research regarding the profile, activities, friends and background of the intended victim. Armed with thorough knowledge the offender creates a fake Facebook profile – invariably this profile is of a young and alluring girl. This fake profile is loaded with hot photographs and other similar stuff. It many times also contains common friends with the victim. This is a way to allay the fear of the unknown as far as the victim is concerned. Even if he has any doubts they are dispelled in quick time as the fake profile has friends in their list that are also friends with the victim. The victim is hooked and the crime starts to unfold.   The victim is generally lured by obscene chat on Facebook. Soon the inhibitions of the victim are reduced as he feels the other side is willingly participating and leading him on. Soon the attacker shifts from Facebook to Skype video signal. Here a pre-recorded obscene film of the same girl is shown to the victim. But on some pretext or the other, no voice contact is made. The chatting is still through text. This generally should be a red flag and should make the victim think that something is amiss. But he is too engrossed in the events that he does not even realize that something is wrong. The trap is fully and finally laid. Next the male victim is made to disrobe himself and indulge in sexual acts on the incitement of the attacker and all that is done by the victim in front of his webcam which is enabled in the ongoing Skype contact. Now the victim has been totally and completely ensnared.   A video record has been made of the victim indulging in all sorts of sexual activity and the next stage is – blackmail and that is for sure. Soon the attacker abruptly shifts back to Facebook. The victim is given a URL and told to check out his obscene film which has been loaded onto You Tube. If the victim does not give a particular sum of money in the stipulated time to a particular account – the You Tube URL will be sent to all his friends on his friend list. What shame and misery has suddenly manifested itself for the poor victim. More often than not they pay and the crime is complete.   Though this Sextortion is going on in the entire globe, certain areas remain more vulnerable than most others. One such targeted area is the Gulf States of UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. In the Arab world things related to sex are a great taboo. Males in such states who are trapped by the above form of crime are subject to great shame and can be easily Sextortioned. They specifically target married men and religious men. It is estimated that over 30,000 Arab males were subject to Sextortion by cyber criminals from one town in Morocco – Oued Zem. This small town with a population of slightly over One Lakh individuals has around 50 money transfer branches. It is estimated that the annual turnover of the cyber thugs in this town through Sextortion is a whopping 3650 Crores. The Morocco Police say they are cracking down on this town and its Sextoronists, but the progress is slow if not at all. The criminals claim that this is a 1 hour crime. They say that it takes 20 minutes to chat, another 20 minutes to get the obscene video of the victim which they require and the last 20 minutes is spent in threatening the victim to pay up….otherwise his reputation will be cut to shreds.   Though the Gulf countries may be highly vulnerable to Sextortion – other parts of the world are also not insulated against its evil effects. In Western countries including USA, this form of crime is very common and many men are being entrapped and then blackmailed into paying large sums of money to cyber thugs. Victims not only bear financial loss but many suffer depression and some even take the extreme step of suicide. The case of the Scottish teenager is the prime example of the horrible impact of this crime on citizens and their honor, dignity, reputation and lives leave alone their finances. In India too this crime is on an upsurge with a number of cases occurring, as in India too sexual agenda is generally off the table in most of the societies, communities and families. Thus many Indian males are falling victim to Sextortion and are paying large sums of money and then not coming forward to report to the authorities their predicament. Thus the means of arresting the growth of this crime is missing and it continues to grow unchecked.   The citizens will be therefore well advised to stringently follow the “one golden principle” of security on the social networking platforms. That is – never to accept a friend request from a person unknown to him/her in the real world. Even though the profile offering the friend request contains common friends in their list – the risks are too many as compared to the benefits of such unrestrained friend making. Another precaution is that citizens should keep their wits about themselves while chatting – why should a person use the video option of Skype but the words are in text. These are small precaution – that is followed now diligently, can avoid a lot of pain and suffering latter.