MANILA - Fifty-eight people have been arrested in the Philippines for their involvement in a giant, global Internet "sextortion" network, local police and Interpol announced in a joint press conference on Friday.
Victims in foreign countries have been lured by people in the Philippines into giving sexually explicit photos or videos about themselves online, then blackmailed for many thousands of dollars, the authorities said.
"The scale of this extortion network is massive," the director of Interpol's Digital Crime Centre, Sanjay Virmani said.
"These crimes are not limited to any one country and nor are the victims. That's why international cooperation in investigating these crimes is essential." Philippine police chief Alan Purisima said the 58 people arrested would be charged over a range of crimes, including engaging in child pornography, extortion and using technologies to commit fraud.
It was not immediately clear whether all 58 arrested were Filipinos, although authorities initially made no mention of any foreigners who may have been directly involved in the Philippines.
However, authorities emphasised the Philippines was not the hub of the global sextortion network, only that the current investigation had focused on the Southeast Asian nation.
Purisima said the scam typically involved someone posing as an attractive, young lady making contact with people overseas via Facebook and other social media, then seeking to establish a relationship with them.
"After getting acquainted with the victims... they engage in cybersex, and this will be recorded unknown to the victims," he said.
"They then threaten to release it to friends and relatives." He said victims had paid between 500 pesos ($11) and 500,000 pesos ($11,000).
While he said elderly men were often targeted, children were also victims.
A Scottish police chief who also briefed reporters at the press conference said one boy in Scotland had committed suicide after being extorted.
He said the boy was 17 when he killed himself.
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