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Cyber-police crackdown draws sexual extortion out of the Middle East's online shadows Open in fullscreen

Karim Traboulsi

Cyber-police crackdown draws sexual extortion out of the Middle East's online shadows

Sexual blackmail is becoming more common in the Middle East [AFP]

Date of publication: 12 October, 2017

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A spate of sexual extortion cases in the Arab region has prompted internet security groups to issue new warnings to netizens to protect their online privacy from intrusion and blackmail.
A spate of sexual extortion cases in the Arab region has prompted internet security groups to issue new warnings to netizens to protect their online privacy from intrusion and blackmail.

On Thursday, a cybercrime division of the Lebanese police said they arrested two suspected 'sextortionists', including a woman in the northern city of Tripoli for filming people in compromising situations and then blackmailing them, according to local press reports.

The suspects admitted to filming people in an “immoral position” before threatening to publish the footage on social media, including WhatsApp and Facebook, said The Daily Star.

In a subsequent tweet, Lebanon's Internal Security Forces advised citizens not to accept friend requests on social media from unknown people, as they may then be able to hack webcams and take pictures that can be used for blackmail, said the Daily Star.

Similar 'sextortion' crimes have been reported this week in both Morocco and Egypt.

Sextortion has become quite common in Lebanon and the region, said Mohamad Najem, co-founder of Social Media Exchange (SMEX), a Lebanese NGO that works to advance self-regulating information societies in the Middle East.

"One kid even committed suicide" because of sextortion, he added. "The main advice is not to add someone you don't know on Facebook".

SMEX has made a video to raise awareness about the issue in Arabic.

According to the UK National Crime Agency, "criminals might befriend victims online by using a fake identity and then persuade them to perform sexual acts in front of their webcam, often by using an attractive woman to entice the victim to participate."

These webcam videos are recorded by the criminals who then threaten to share the images with the victims’ friends and family. 

"This can make the victims feel extremely ashamed and embarrassed and, tragically, here in the UK at least four young men have taken their own lives after being targeted in this way," the NCA says.

The best way to stop yourself from becoming a victim is to be very careful about who you befriend online, especially if you’re considering sharing anything intimate with them, says the agency website, which offers detailed advise on how to act in the event of blackmail.

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