Manila: Authorities in the Philippines are close to apprehending key suspects behind an international extortion ring bilking from individuals who post compromising videos or photos in cyberspace, police said.
Chief Superintend. Ruben Theodore Sindac, spokesman for the Philippine National Police (PNP), said they have already identified several individuals behind the “sextortion” ring and are taking steps to apprehend these suspects.
He said that based on their information, the group is operating from several countries and that they are trying to determine if these people are part of several “cells” that operate independently.
The information from Sindac follow reports that 58 people had been arrested since Wednesday in various parts of the Philippines’ main northern island of Luzon.
Along with the arrests, PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) operatives also confiscated 250 pieces of devices used by the suspects in conducting sextortion activities. The operations were carried out in Taguig City in Metro Manila, Bulacan in Central Luzon, as well as in Laguna and the Bicol Region in the South.
Known as Operation “StrikeBack,” the raids were also indirectly participated in by representatives from Presidential Anti-Organised Crime Commission, the Department of Justice, Police Scotland, Interpol, Hong Kong Police, Singapore Police, US Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), Child Exploitation Online Protection (CEOP) and Australian Federal Police.
Interpol Director Sanjay Virmani, during a press conference in Manila last May 2 encouraged international cooperation in investigating sextortion “as this is massive and run with just one goal in mind — to make money regardless of the terrible emotional damage they inflict on their victims.”
Reports reaching Manila said that “StrikeBack” was unleashed following the death of Scottish teenager Daniel Perry in July 2013.
Perry was said to have been lured by someone whom he had met over on one of the Internet chatrooms into engaging in cybersex. The 19-year-old Scot had committed suicide last year after he had been blackmailed by his “chatmate” to pay a certain amount of electronic cash so that videos of him doing sexual acts with himself would not be posted over the Internet.
As it turned out, Perry’s cybersex chatmate was based in the Philippines and during the raids conducted by authorities from Wednesday, three Filipino males, Vincent Regori Bravo, Gian Tolin and Jomar Palacio, were arrested and held accountable for the Scot’s suicide.
“It is also important to highlight that while the arrests made this week were made here in the Philippines, these crimes are not limited to any one country and nor are the victims,” Virmani said.
Police Director General Alan La Madrid Purisima advised Filipinos to be aware in posting video and voice calls on the internet because it can always be recorded.
“Be cautious about people you meet online. Revealing personal details online is extremely risky and they may not be who they seem to be, because there are lot of fake accounts online,” Purisima warned.
Recently, the Philippine government sealed an arrangement with private telecom operators that allow local authorities to monitor Internet traffic for suspicious transmissions, including those that pertain to cybersex, child pornography and trafficking.