25 year old Wilson won’t forget the moment a brief window of pleasure turned into a nightmare.
He’d met a young woman on a dating app, and she seemed to really like him. The whole time he thought she was just interested in meeting up. After meeting on mobile flirting app Skout, the woman asked to connect on Skype, and Facebook, too. Once they were video chatting, he claimed the woman started to strip and then asked Wilson to return the favour.
“She was like, ‘can I see you?’ You know, can you reveal yourself? Then… I showed everything, like, my private parts.”
Almost instantly, the chat turned hostile. He claimed the woman belonged to a network of scammers, and she wasn’t alone in the room. “She was the bait,” Wilson said. “She just moved aside, and I didn’t see the guy’s face, but he was telling me, ‘We recorded you, and if you don’t do what I tell you to do, you’re going to get the video sent to your family, and we’re going to ruin your life.’”
Fearing the reaction from his friends and family, who are conservative Muslims, Wilson agreed to send them $650. The scammers allegedly gave him strict instructions for the transaction, conducted via global money sharing network Western Union. Even then, the ordeal wasn’t over.
“That was a relief, and the next thing, they show me these pictures. They say, the deal was to delete the video, but we still have pictures and the demands continued”
We have recently seen a rise in reports of attempts to blackmail people using compromising images that have been taken of them after scammers made contact using dating websites or social networking sites like Facebook.
So how does this happen?
The scammers ask to be added to friends or your family contact lists. This them gives them access to email addresses or social media account details of the your friends and families. After building up a friendly or romantic rapport with the you, the scammers then move the conversation to video chat and, if it’s a romance scam then you may even see a scantily clad man or woman.
Often, the scammers broadcast images or footage of a person who does not know their identity is being used in the scam and for this reason, the corresponding conversation may be via text chat. The scammers then convince you to strip or act in a sexual manner and record the footage. With teenagers, the videos may involve the person bearing their soul or discussing sensitive issues such as sexuality.
Next comes the blackmail, with a request made for money to prevent the images being released publicly on a video sharing website and/or being sent to the victim’s family and friends via social media or email. The emotional toll on the victims can be immense due to fear of embarrassment.
There are so many opportunities presented to us to connect with people online, but it’s not always easy to judge if our new online friends and contacts are real or just impersonated profiles. It has become easy to lie about who you are and to hide behind. Social media allows you to communicate with complete strangers.
Online blackmail can be frightening, and victims young and old often feel embarrassed, scared, or that they have no way out.
Although victims of online blackmail are never to blame, fear of judgement or getting into trouble is often a big barrier to them reporting. But reporting it is the right thing to do. Report it via the social media portal and South Africans can report cybercrimes anonymously by calling the Crime Stop Call Centre on 08600 10111. Crime Stop is a national contact center staffed with well-trained investigative interviewers, who all have at least basic detective training.