Cases of sextortion – extortion through sexual methods – on the rise in Thane

Sextortion, or extortion using sexual methods, tops the charts in the Thane City police’s cybercrime statistics this year; 60 cases of cybercrime registered in Thane till September include 25 of sextortion
A recent and fast evolving kind of cybercrime, sextortion involves befriending the victims through social networking platforms, which today exist in abundance; extortion through sexual methods is on the rise in Thane, according to the cops. (HT FILE)
A recent and fast evolving kind of cybercrime, sextortion involves befriending the victims through social networking platforms, which today exist in abundance; extortion through sexual methods is on the rise in Thane, according to the cops. (HT FILE)
Published on Nov 12, 2021 07:07 PM IST
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ByAnamika Gharat & Gautam S. Mengle, Thane

Sextortion, or extortion using sexual methods, tops the charts in the Thane City police’s cybercrime statistics this year. According to police officials, of the 60 cases of cybercrime registered in Thane till September, 25 were of sextortion, which is over 40% of the total cases. Police officials said that despite their best efforts of raising awareness, cases of sextortion continue to rise.

A recent and fast evolving kind of cybercrime, sextortion involves befriending the victims through social networking platforms, which today exist in abundance. In case of male victims, the accused connect with them posing as women. After some initial chatting, the ‘girl’ initiates a video call with the victim, convincing him to perform sexual acts on camera. These acts are recorded without the victim’s knowledge and then used to blackmail him for as much money as he can pay.

The same crime, when aimed at women, uses profiles in the name of men. However, as women are much more careful with regard to their online activities, a sextortion scam takes longer in their case, with the accused winning their confidence over time with promises of love and even marriage.

“People who often get connected with strangers through social media or even gaming apps are targets of these crimes. It begins with offers of friendship but soon leads to sharing of compromising pictures or videos that are used for blackmail. The victims of such crimes belong to all age groups. We are investigating these cases by trying to trace the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of the accounts in question. We are also trying some additional methods of technical investigation in order to trace and apprehend the accused,” an officer with the Thane Police’s Cyber Crime Cell said.

Officials said that sextortion can be damaging in more ways than one as even after the victim is bled dry for every penny that he has, there is no guarantee that the accused will not make the compromising videos public or upload them on pornographic websites.

“There are hundreds of porn websites on the internet where all kinds of explicit content is hugely popular. Further, there are discussion forums on the dark web that serve as marketplaces, where such videos are auctioned and sold to the highest bidder,” an officer with the Maharashtra Cyber department said.

What makes this trend all the more worrying is that not a single case has been detected yet. Further, the police believe that the number of cases reported to them are just the tip of the iceberg.

“Victims of such crimes are unwilling to come forward and report them to the police for fear of embarrassment or disrepute it might bring. However, the best and surest way of bringing such cases under control is to report them to the authorities,” Deputy Commissioner of Police Sunil Lokhande, Cyber Crime, said.

One of the cases that the Thane police is investigating is of a 19-year-old girl who stays by herself. Due to sheer loneliness during the lockdown, she turned to gaming apps and was befriended by a scamster who first offered emotional support and then convinced her to share explicit pictures of herself. Using these, the accused started blackmailing her, demanding more and more explicit pictures and videos till the victim confided in her parents and a case was registered.

Another case is of a 50-year-old man from a politically-connected family who was similarly targetted by an accused posing as a girl on social media.

Cyber expert Ritesh Bhatia said that the safest policy to follow given the rising trend of sextortion cases was to not accept any requests from strangers.

“If you do connect with someone you don’t know personally, never accept video calls from them. The very fact that someone who barely knows you is making a video call to you should set alarm bells ringing in your head. Further, it is advisable to make all social media profiles private. This prevents anyone from taking pictures from your social media pages and morphing your face over explicit content,” Bhatia said.

Apart from sextortion, the Thane Cyber Cell is also probing cases of phishing, website spoofing and credit and debit card frauds, officials said.

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