The forbidden fruit is truly the most attractive. And working on the logic, cyber criminals are using the honey trap with obscene laxity to ensnare potential victims. Gujarat Police, in its recent crackdown on cyber frauds has reported a trend of duping men, mostly in their 40s, using sextortion tactics.
“Exercise caution when putting up personal information and expanding your friends’ list on social media accounts. Scammers are thriving on social networking websites that glean information about potential victims, mostly men in their 40s, from Facebook and luring them to share their WhatsApp numbers,” advises Manish Bhankharia, inspector, cyber forensics and prevention, CID Crime.
Gujarat Police have, since early 2021, identified 14,481 accounts on Facebook and Instagram that were used by gangs for sextortion purposes in the state. Between January 2022 and February 1 this year alone, 2,382 complaints pertaining to sextortion calls have already been registered on helpline 1930.
Men in their 40s are soft targets for the gangs, share cops, adding that photos of women from social media are used to create fake profiles on Instagram and Facebook. “A striking feature about such fake profiles is that they all have only male followers. Our cybercrime prevention team is monitoring these fraudulent accounts,” he elaborated.
In February alone, CID crime had requested Meta, Facebook’s parent company, to remove 773 accounts. Of these, Meta conceded to 663 requests while the remaining accounts are being probed.
When asked to reason the “men in their 40s” catch, Bhankharia added: “Most are married and fear being shamed in society. Secondly, it is assumed that they have a good amount of savings and can afford the extortion amount. We have been repeatedly advising people to stop responding to the extortion threats and the gang will stop pursuing you.”
Initially, when CID officials tracked the numbers used for extortion, they stumbled upon the same IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number linked to about 200 sim cards. This means, 200 different sim cards were used by one mobile device to make extortion calls.
The gangs, which typically belong to Mewat, Bharatpur and Alwar, look up the victim’s Facebook friends’ list and study his posts and the interactions that follow. “They study the accounts of men and their circle of friends. This enables them to blackmail the victims as the extortion will involve taking names of their near and dear ones,” said Bhankharia.
The extortion amount starts from Rs 5,000 and touches Rs 2.7 crore – as was the case with a 68-year-old businessman from the Navrangpura area who filed a complaint in January this year. The amount is increased when the victim engages and starts replying.
Explaining the trend, B.M. Tank, DySP cyber cell, Gujarat CID (crime), shared that victims must come forward to register FIRs. “The social stigma attached to such acts emboldens the criminals. Curtailing this menace without public participation will not be possible.”
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