Philippines police arrest cybercrime suspects in ‘sextortion’ swoop

Philippines police, backed by Interpol, have arrested dozens of suspected members of an online extortion syndicate who duped hundreds of victims into exposing themselves in front of webcams, including a Scottish teenager who killed himself after being blackmailed, officials have said.

At least 58 Filipino suspects in the capital, Manila, and other cities were arrested after investigators from Interpol, the US homeland security department and other police agencies traced online chats from some of the victims’ computers, said the Philippines national police chief, Allan Purisima.

Purisima said the syndicate would secretly record victims after tricking them into exposing their bodies or having cybersex, and later threaten to send the videos to their relatives and friends unless they paid $500 to $2,000 (£300 to £1,200).

He said members of the “sextortion” group would create fake Facebook accounts of fictitious young women and lure victims with pornographic materials after striking up online chats with them.

Hong Kong police inspector Louis Kwan Chung-yin said more than 470 people from Hong Kong fell victim to the scam last year and about 160 this year. In one case, a victim paid the equivalent of $15,000, he said.

Sanjay Virmani, director of the Interpol digital crime centre in Singapore, said the victims came from Asia, Europe and the US. He said that the suspected extortionist had been tracked down using evidence from computers and intelligence information from police.

Warning those still engaged in cyberextortion in the Philippines and elsewhere, Virmani said: “You better be prepared for the consequences of your actions because as you can see we have made a commitment to work together. You will be caught and you will be held accountable for your actions.”

Scottish police officer Gary Cunningham said he was representing the 17-year-old boy’s family in tracking down those responsible for events leading to his death last year. He said the family was “extremely supportive … in bringing to justice to individuals out there who have fallen victims to these crimes.”

Senior Supt Gilbert Sosa, chief of the Philippine national police anti-cybercrime group, said the amounts extorted from the victims they ran into millions of pesos, or tens of thousands of dollars.

“This is not an issue directly involving the Philippines exclusively,” the British ambassador to Manila, Asif Ahmad, said. “Cybercrime is international, and is an international problem, it respects no nationality or borders. We are all potential victims of cybercrime, none of us are immune.”


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