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Devbrat Patnaik

Bhubaneswar: Online crime has gone a notch lower and deeper. As if financial fraud was not enough, the scamsters are now eyeing gullible youngsters to extort money by blackmail through social media platforms. And in the era of digital revolution, instances of cyber risk and security threat have also risen manifolds, the latest menace being the 'sextortion' emails which target social media users, a majority of whom are below 18.

Reports suggest that these fraudsters, otherwise known as 'sextortionists', blackmail users through emails, wherein they claim to have access to victim's profile, login details or a video of the victim visiting an adult website or involved in nude call, and subsequently demand ransom by threatening to disclose the same.

As per modus operandi, this scam usually begins with creation of fake IDs on Facebook by the criminal group and they use photo of a beautiful girl as profile picture. After targeting user(s), the criminals usually begin with normal chat and then jump to sexting. And then eventually, the criminals request or force user(s) to engage in a nude video call and once that is achieved, GAME IS OVER.

After that, the criminals begin blackmailing the victims by threatening to make their video public and continue with their attempts to scare victims into paying a ransom.

Every single prosecuted perpetrator is a male and a repeated offender. A recent survey on sextortion claims that more than 70 per cent of cases involve victims under the age of 18, around 14 per cent involve a mix of minor and adult victims, and 12 per cent of the cases involve only adult victims. While it was found that minor victims were targeted using social media manipulation, almost half of the adults have been victims of computer hacking.

Throwing more light on sextortion, cyber expert Prashant Sahu said, "When the victims engage in a nude video call, the fraudsters either take a screenshot or record the video using different techniques."

"Whenever you get a friend request on Facebook, it is advisable to check the background of the profile, the number of posts, and other details. And if at all you or the fraudster initiates a conversation, allow only text chat and not voice or video calls," Sahu suggested to the social media users.

Following allegations by many people who have fallen prey to the potential online honey-trap, the Crime Branch cyber cell has pulled up its socks to deal with the menace. The CB also issued an advisory to curb a possible rise in instances of sextortion.

Twin City Police Commissioner Sudhanshu Sarangi said, "Most of the cybercrime cases reported in Odisha are from Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. We have requested Odisha DGP to provide us (Commissionerate Police) with a cybercrime police station. The one that is functioning now is under the Crime Branch. One cybercrime police station has been set up in Cuttack, the other one which is yet to function is in Bhubaneswar. And we have urged DGP to hand over this station to Commissionerate Police. This will be of immense help to the citizens."

Sextortion is not the only case of cybercrime that has come to the fore in recent times. One Brajabandhu Sahu of Bakoi village under Bolagada block in Khordha has reportedly lost around Rs 17 lakh to online fraud during purchase of timber.

“I have a timber depot in Bolagada. I used to buy wood from outside the state and sell furniture. The foreign company submitted every single detail regarding transfer of money, supply of wood. And when I deposited Rs 16.95 lakh, I realised I was defrauded by an online fraud company. The same was corroborated by Paradip Port authorities when I first asked them. Though I have lodged complaints with Bolagada police and the cybercrime police station in Cuttack, no step has been taken,” alleged Sahu.

Failing to repay the loan, a helpless Sahu today attempted self-immolation in front of Khordha Collectorate but was overpowered by alert policemen deployed there.

Khordha SP Ajay Pratap Swain said that the case is under investigation. "The complainant was asked to deposit Rs 23 lakh in return of which, the company promised, seven containers stuffed with teak wood will reach Paradip Port from Poland. And it will seal the final deal at the Paradip Port. Upon investigation, it was found that the fraudsters belong to Nigeria. The matter is being investigated," Swain said.


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