CYBERCOPS from the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group on Wednesday struck again, smashing a global ‘sextortion’ ring’ based in Olongapo City following a raid which resulted in the arrest of 28 suspects, one of them a woman, PNP-ACG director, Senior Superintendent Guillermo Lorenzo T. Eleazar announced today.
Eleazar said the 28 suspects were found engaged in the business of ‘selling pornographic materials’ or pornographic website links to their clients abroad and later duping them into exposing themselves in front of webcams.
“The suspects are known for blackmailing their victims, demanding money from them or they will upload their videos showing them naked and engaging in sexual acts via internet,” said the PNP-ACG director.
The arrests were the latest to be made by the PNP-ACG regarding ‘sextortion’ syndicates in the country which has been identified as a current hub of ‘sextortion’ syndicates operating in Southeast Asia.
“The scale of this extortion network is massive since the crime is not limited to any one country and nor are the victims. This is the reason why the cooperation of all our foreign counterparts is essential in investigating these crimes,” said Eleazar.
Eleazar said ‘sextortion’ syndicates would secretly record the victims after tricking them into exposing their bodies or having cybersex, and later threaten to send the video to their relatives and friends unless they paid, usually from $500 to $2,000.
The official said members of the “sextortion” group would create fake Facebook accounts of fictitious young and attractive women and entice and lure victims with pornographic materials after striking up online chats with them.
“After getting acquainted with the victims… they engage in cybersex, and this will be recorded unknown to the victims. After that, they will threaten to release it to friends and relatives,” Eleazar said while noting that elderly men and even children have been targeted by syndicates.
The official said the suspects were arrested at the 3rd floor of a building in Rizal Avenue, Barangay West Tapinac, Olongapo City which was raided by his men on the strength of a search warrant for violation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act 2012 issued by Judge Ramon D. Pamular of the Guimba, Nueva Ecija, Regional Trial Court Branch 32. The maintainer of the den, Jay R. Morete was not around during the raid.
The suspects will be charged for violation of Section 4(c)1 (Cybersex) of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act before of the Prosecutor’s Office, Department of Justice, Manila.
According to Eleazar, the operation was in response to the continues complaints they received from their foreign law enforcement counterparts regarding the presence of a ‘sextortion’ ring threatening to upload nude photographs and videos of their victims in Facebook and YouTube.
He said that a team from the PNP-ACG Cyber Response Unit (CRU), Women and Children Protection Section (WCPS), and the Investigation Section conducted a thorough investigation into the complaint leading to the identification of the location and the suspects following months of physical surveillance, online search and online engagement.
Eleazar said that the online chatters are using www.webcams.com, www.adultloveline.com, www.facebook.com, and www.myspace.com a free websites that anybody could anonymously post or upload pictures and create their profiles for public viewing.
He said that the raiding team led by Police Superintendent Darwin Miranda, in coordination with the Olongapo City Police Office launched the operation at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and found the suspects in the act of actual chatting with their customers.
Eleazar said they recovered documents and payment receipts from the possession of the suspects used as transaction for receiving money from the victims.
Seized by the PNP-ACG operatives during the Olongapo City raid were at least 57 Computer System Units with Accessories, Monitors, Keyboards, Switch Hubs, Modems, Wifi Antennas, Cellphones, Telephone Set (Landline), and White Board.
Eleazar said that the operation is a collaboration between PNP and the INTERPOL to eradicate sextortion syndicates in the Philippines. The OPERATION STRIKEBACK 1 was launched in May 2014, STRIKEBACK 2 was launched in August 2014, and this year the OPERATION STRIKEBACK 3.
Eleazar said that during the launch of OPERATION STRIKEBACK 1 in May 2014, the PNP ACG arrested 58 online chatters in Bicol Region, Laguna, and Taguig City, while in OPERATION STRIKEBACK 2 in August 2014,they were able to arrest 8 online chatters in Bulacan including the Sextortion Queen.
Eleazar said that the reason why the PNP ACG launched OPERATION STRIKEBACK 3 is that they received complaints from foreign victims sent through the INTERPOL.
“Our foreign counterparts have been very supportive in providing details of the transactions and they have coordinated with the victims to get the details of the suspects”, said Eleazar. He further said that the Philippines was tagged as the Sextortion capital of the world by Facebook in 2014.
Eleazar said that the investigation of sextortion incidents on the internet is a very serious job on the part of investigators. They have to collect digital evidence, identity of the suspects, and location of the computers.
He said that the suspects are using fake identification to received extortion money. The challenge on the part of our investigation is that employees of money transfer companies lacked the knowledge of identifying fake IDs.
“We encourage money transfer companies to collaborate with law enforcement agencies and other government agencies that issued identification cards for their transactions”, Eleazar, further said.
The sextortion groups are acting as sales agents posting pictures of a foreign woman and assumed its identity and location in the United States with horny profiles in different social networking sites and dating sites.
They will create an account in Yahoo Messenger (chat client program)/Microsoft Network (chat client program) and Facebook Chat in order to directly communicate with their prospective foreign clients and enticed to sign-up to the given adult pornographic website. These chat sales agents are either male, female, gay or lesbian who will receive earnings through commissioned basis.
“We are warning online companies involved in sextortion to stop their illegal activities said Eleazar. They are using call center as a legitimate company but they are into sextortion. We will not stop from raiding them if they will not end their illegal activities and they are destroying the name of our business processing and outsourcing companies who are a legitimate call centers in the country”, Eleazar said.