Philippines in cybersex blackmail arrests

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Media captionPhilippines National Police chief Alan Purisima says recordings of cyber sex were made "unknown to the victims"

Police in the Philippines say they have arrested dozens of suspects linked to an online blackmail syndicate.

The suspects persuaded people in foreign countries to expose themselves in front of webcams or send explicit material, police said.

They then threatened to send the footage or photos to relatives unless payment was made.

Philippine National Police chief Allan Purisima said 58 people had been arrested in a probe involving Interpol.

"The modus operandi of this group is to create an online account on social networking sites with the purpose of locating and attracting prospective clients, especially old male individuals abroad," he said.

"Whilst they created this account they would pose as Asian attractive females.

"After getting acquainted with the victims... they'll invite and further entice their would-be victims to use video-call and engage in cybersex and this will be recorded, unknown to the victim."

The footage was then used to extort money, usually ranging from $500 (£296) to $2,000, he said.

Interpol said in a statement on Friday: "Operating on an almost industrial scale from call centre-style offices, such cyber-blackmail agents are provided with training and offered bonus incentives such as holidays, cash or mobile phones for reaching their financial targets."

Task force

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Media captionThe BBC's Lorna Gordon reports on the death of a Scottish teenager who was blackmailed

The director of Interpol's Digital Crime Centre, Sanjay Virmani, said the scale of the network was "massive".

"These crimes are not limited to any one country and nor are the victims. That's why international co-operation in investigating these crimes is essential," he said.

A Scottish police chief who took part in the briefing said a Scottish teenager had killed himself after being blackmailed by the syndicate.

Hong Kong police official Louis Kwan said that more than 530 people in the territory, mostly between 20 to 30 years old, fell victim to the syndicate.

Some even paid up to $15,000 to keep compromising material private, he said. Some eventually reported the blackmail to police when "they could no longer afford to continue paying", he added.

Mr Purisima said officials from the US, Hong Kong, Interpol, Scotland, Singapore and Australia last year established the task force which took down the syndicate.

Cybersex is a growing industry in the Philippines, where there are high levels of poverty and a population that speaks some English.

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