Published by The new paper on Aug 18, 2014 06:00 am
Are men here so desperate that they would strip for a complete stranger they have just met online?
That is not the worst of it. These men then pay lots of money to prevent their pictures from being posted online.
Despite police warnings, there has been a spike in the number of reported cyber extortion cases.
Between January and June last year, there were 38 cases. In the same period this year, the figure was 132 – a 247 per cent increase.
The total amount involved also jumped, from at least $22,000 to at least $57,000.
Said head of investigation at Tanglin Police Division, Superintendent (Supt) Justin Wong, in an interview with The New Paper last week: “Most victims are men between 20 and 30 years old.
“Our Singaporean men are unfortunately so driven by lust that they fall victim to cyber extortion and it only takes a few days for scammers to gain rapport (with their victims).”
A typical scam case starts when an innocuous-looking and pretty face pops up on your Facebook account, wanting to befriend you.
In a video chat, she would strip naked and tempt you to do the same.
Once the scammers get their victims to perform obscene acts on camera or have obtained lewd photos of the victims, they have “achieved their target”, said Supt Wong, who has led several investigations into cyber extortion cases.
“That’s when the picture of the lady disappears and out comes a message that show a link to a video of yourself in compromising positions.”
Scammers will use these photos and videos to blackmail their victims for money.
Of the 132 cases so far this year, 61 victims sent money to their scammers to prevent explicit photos and videos of themselves from being spread. One victim was under the age of 16.
In one case this year, a 37-year-old man was extorted of about $7,300 after he was persuaded to show his genitals over video conferencing application Skype.
He paid because the scammer threatened to send a recorded video of his actions to his family and friends.
In most cases, the money could not be recovered as the scammers are based in other countries, which is outside the police jurisdiction, said Supt Wong.
He added: “This is the reality of this kind of crime. So, we try to find ways to circumvent it, but it is difficult.”
“Make no mistake about it, these are overseas networks of criminals, not individuals. There are professional, sophisticated syndicates behind such scams.”
In May, a joint operation between Interpol, the Singapore Police Force and other police agencies resulted in the arrest of 58 scammers in the Philippines.
They were known to have operated “on an almost industrial scale” from call centre-style offices, an Interpol press release said.
Scammers would often contact strangers on the Internet, but not after extensively studying their potential victims first, said senior psychologist Jeffery Chin, who studies criminal behavior.
“He or she can study you through your digital footprint and the stuff you post online.” said the assistant director of the crime, investigation and forensic branch in the Home Team Behavioral Sciences Centre.
Supt Wong agreed: “They will look for victims who they know will be vulnerable, who will be susceptible to this sort of enticement. And then they will use that particular hook to catch that particular fish.”
There are also scammers based here.
In 2012, a 22-year-old student was blackmailed of nearly $100,000 over eight months. When he could no longer pay his scammers, he confessed to his father and made a police report.
The scammers, Alexander Soh, 24, and his girlfriend Yap Siew Ting, 19, were found guilty of extortion. Soh was jailed for five years and given five strokes of the cane, while Yap was given two years’ probation.
Scam cases this year
A 23-year-old man was extorted of $1,500 after he got to know a woman through a mobile messaging application.
They progressed to chatting online and the woman suggested they make a video of both them stripping. The victim agreed.
The woman threatened to circulate the video to the victim’s friends and family if he did not remit money to her. He paid her and made a police report.
A 37-year-old man lost $6,700 after he befriended an unknown woman on Facebook and they started chatting. They then communicated on Skype.
In one video chat, the woman suddenly appeared naked and asked him to reveal his genitals to her. She then blackmailed him and threatened to post the video on YouTube and share it with his friends.
The man made several transfers through a remittance agency before informing the police.
Another 37-year-old man was extorted of $7,300 after his female scammer appeared in the nude in a video chat and asked him to show her his genitals.
He was reluctant but eventually persuaded to do so by the woman.
Not long after the video call ended, he was showed the video of him revealing his genitals. He was asked to pay her for the video to be deleted.
An 18-year-old man was invited to chat via Skype and was cheated of $3,100. During the chat, both the victim and woman performed indecent acts.
The next day, he received a Facebook message from the woman with a link to a YouTube clip of him performing the indecent act.
She asked for a sum of money to be paid, failing which the video would be circulated to his family and friends. He complied.