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CYBERCOPS from the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP ACG) shortly before midnight Wednesday raided a cybersex den in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan where they arrested 20 persons, 13 of them males accused of recording the sex act of their victims and threatening to send the video to their target’s families if their extortion demand is unheeded.

“Thru our Strikeback Operation 2016, we have smashed another local cybersex ring victimizing foreigners and even Filipinos, luring them into webcam chats and blackmailing the victims with the footage showing them in uncompromising situation,” said PNP ACG director, Senior Superintendent Guillermo Lorenzo T. Eleazar.

Strikeback is a massive operation of the PNP ACG aimed at neutralizing cybersex syndicates in the country particularly those involved in so-called ‘sextortion.’ The Interpol has tagged The Philippines, Morocco and Ivory Coast as the top three countries where ‘sextortion’ rings are operating.

However, Interpol authorities last week lauded the Philippine government specifically the PNP ACG for its continuing massive effort to identify and arrest members of ‘sextortion’ syndicates operating in the country.

Eleazar said that around 11:45 p.m. Wednesday, Cybercops from the PNP ACG Cyber Response Team led by Superintendent Jay Guillermo raided the office of the Jaira Online Marketing Services located at the 2nd and 3rd floors of 8650 ME Building in ErañoManalo Street, Purok 6, Area-C in Barangay San Martin, SapangPalay, San Jose del Monte City on the strength of a search warrant for violation of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybersex Act of the Philippines issued by Judge Ramon D. Pamular of the Guimba, Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court Branch 32.

The raiders, with the assistance of the Regional Anti-Cybercrime Office 3 and the San Jose del Monte City Police Station arrested the 20 suspects and seized 39 computer sets, three computer servers, three TP Link routers, two PLDT DSL, one CPU without monitor, 16 different cellphones and one Ipad during the operation.

Eleazar identified the arrested suspects as Sherly Jean Avellana,25; Ma. Elena Mercolita,30; MaricarPagwagan,18;  Carmela Carmelo,23; JenalynTazarte,25; Teresa Rayo,39; and Cathy de la Rosa,19; and males EzerVictorino,30; John Carlos Vergara,20; Raymond Sudario,27; RusselCanlas,27; Norman Fortich,21; Steven Jommel Rico,24; Sherwin del Rosario,29; Alcel Jan Cruz,26; JavemarVegaño,32; ReymarkRoldan,27; Benedict Jade Duran,27; SurewinCarreon,21; and Julius Christian Realba,29.

All 20 suspects who are residents of different parts of Bulacan were taken to the PNP-ACG headquarters in Camp Crame for documentation after they were apprised of their constitutional rights, said the PNP-ACG director.

Eleazar said that the ‘sextortion’ rings  target males in all ages. The syndicates’ modus operandi goes like this: A beautiful sexy young girl will send a message to a user of Facebook and any social media site and will try to establish an instant interpersonal connection.

As soon as the target befriends the suspect, their conversation will start to get sexual in nature and the suspect will start sending her supposed naked pictures and invite the target to have a live video chat wherein she can be seen performing sexual acts.

Once the target is hooked, he will be encouraged to do the same by showing his face and genitals on webcam. Unknown to him, the chat video is not a live performance but a recorded video downloaded from porn sites. Mostly, the suspects behind the webcam are also males who know how to use tools to show recorded videos on live chat conversations.

“Your sexual acts will be recorded and the never-ending extortion will start as the suspect has already profiled your account and captured all of your friends’ list. He or she will then threaten to send the video to your friends, your officemates or classmates and even to your family if you will not give them money,” Eleazar said.

The PNP-ACG director renewed his call on the public to fully cooperate with them in going after ‘sextortion’ gangs who preys on both the young and the old, students included as they use Facebook and other social media in the country.

“We are very much aware of the possibility that young students may end up victims of ‘sextortion’ in the country with the opening of regular classes this month since during the summer period, we made at least three sextortion-related arrests with students as victims,” Eleazar said as 25 million students returned to regular school this week.

Eleazar said they have activated their Operation Strikeback 3 designed to arrest cybercriminals victimizing women, children, and men with their ‘sextortion’ activities.  He said that ‘sextortion’ syndicates usually demand $500 to $2,000 from their victims and the demand will increase further.

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.

Three weeks ago, PNP ACG operatives also smashed a global ‘sextortion’ ring based in Olongapo City following a raid that resulted in the arrest of 28 suspects. 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.

In the advent of Internet technology, Eleazar again asked parents to have more time in communicating with their children particularly minors to prevent them from failing victims to Internet predators.

“This is the reason we are encouraging parents and children to report to the PNP ACG all Internet or computer crimes. We also assure them that all information they will provide us will be treated with utmost confidentiality,” he said.

In July 2013, a 17-year old Scottish named Daniel Perry took his own life after falling victim to a ‘sextortion’ ring in the country, which lured him into webcam, chats and then blackmailed him with the footage showing him in some uncompromising situation.

“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.