Nearly 60 people have been arrested in the Philippines on charges of operating an international "sextortion" network. As the Associated Press reports, Filipino police say the suspects targeted hundreds of people in online chat rooms, luring them into having cybersex and exposing themselves on webcams. The alleged criminals would secretly record the encounters and then threaten to send the videos to the victims' friends and relatives unless they paid money. In one case, a victim paid $15,000, though officials say the sums were usually in the range of $500 to $2,000.
The network was dismantled after an investigation launched by Philippine police, Interpol, and the US Department of Homeland Security, among other law enforcement agencies. At least 58 suspects were arrested in Manila and other Philippine cities, officials announced Friday, alleging that they collected thousands of dollars from hundreds of victims. Most of the victims were from the Asia, Europe, and the US, including a 17-year-old Scottish boy who committed suicide after being targeted on Skype.
"You will be caught and you will be held accountable."
Authorities say the suspects would lure their victims using fake profiles on social media and porn websites. They would befriend them and eventually invite them to engage in cybersex, before blackmailing them with the recorded videos. Police and intelligence officers were able to dismantle the ring by monitoring social media sites and tracing cash flows, and they hope their investigation will deter other crime groups — especially in the Philippines, which holds the ignominious title of sextortion capital of the world.
"You better be prepared for the consequences of your actions because as you can see we have made a commitment to work together," Sanjay Virmani, director of the Interpol Digital Crime Center, told reporters. "You will be caught and you will be held accountable for your actions."