Sexually explicit video clips can cost more than just money

Sexually explicit video clips can cost more than just money

The use of cybersex videos to extort money is just the tip of the iceberg, warned experts in Singapore. Such sexually explicit clips can end up being used to coerce victims into having sex with online predators.

They may also be used to force victims to hand over information about other people, widening the net on those being blackmailed.

"By getting such information, culprits could threaten family members and force the victim to have actual sex," said Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director of youth services at the Singapore Children Society.

And an explicit video may not be seen only by the person it was sent to.

"Because of the anonymity of the Internet, victims may think they are having cybersex with one person, but it could actually be more - it could be 'cyber gang rape'," she said.

Victims as young as 10 may fall prey given the large amount of time spent online, she said.

"Sextortion", or the use of sexual information, photographs or videos to extort money or favours from the victim, seems to be on the rise.

In Singapore, cyber extortion cases increased from 64 in 2012 to 108 cases last year.

Sextortion cases are classified under this, but separate figures were unavailable.

In February, a 28-year-old Indian national, electrical wireman Mani Velmurugan, was sentenced to 32 months' jail after pleading guilty to nine charges of criminal intimidation.

He tricked 17 women he had met online into sending him naked pictures of themselves. He later used the photos to try and get them to have sex with him.

A month later, budget airline flight attendant Kishenraj Rengaraj, 22, was fined $5,000 for threatening to upload a video of a woman stripping.

Last Friday, Singapore police confirmed they were involved in the Interpol-coordinated Operation Strikeback, which targeted organised crime networks behind global sextortion cases. Investigations are ongoing.

Mr Daniel Koh, a psychologist from Insights Mind Centre, said scammers behind such cases were "opportunists" who identified victims by focusing on their weaknesses.

He added that even if victims were aware of the danger, they may get caught up in their online activity and give in to requests. This, he said, is not restricted to one particular segment of the population.

"However, those who keep to themselves and do not have support can be more vulnerable," he said.

Mr Chong Ee Jay, assistant manager at Touch Cyber Wellness, said victims often have a false sense of security as they are in their own homes and not interacting face-to-face with the other party.

A global report last year showed that two in five respondents felt "the convenience of being constantly connected outweighed any potential security risks".

Mr Eugene Teo, senior manager of Security Response at cyber security firm Symantec Singapore, said the figure was "alarming".

"Singaporeans could have a sense of complacency when it comes to online security," he said.

Security experts, such as Barracuda Networks' Mr Anshuman Singh and Mr Dick Bussiere of Tenable Network Security, warned that with hacking attacks becoming more sophisticated, private content could fall into the wrong hands without the victim even realising it.

Hackers could, for example, gain access into a person's webcam surreptitiously.

Mr Singh said: "When hackers activate the webcam, they can ensure that the indicator light doesn't come on - so there is no way you will know that someone is watching you."

This article was published on May 4 in The Straits Times.

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