EIGHT suspected members of an online extortion group accused of blackmailing over 1,000 victims – including a Scottish teenager who took his own life – have been arrested in the Philippines.
The raid on the syndicate’s base in the northern Bulacan province on Thursday was a follow-up to an Interpol-backed operation carried out in April, in which 58 Filipinos were arrested and another 100 linked to the global extortion operation. The victims came from all over the world.
Police say they found a woman ringleader and five Filipino teenagers employed to befriend victims through social media sites before the blackmail was carried out.
They were paid $1,600 dollars (£965) for three days’ work, chatting with foreigners and luring them to expose themselves or perform sexual acts in front of a webcam. A recording was made and then a video link was put on Facebook unless the victim paid $3,000 (£1,800), police said.
Gilbert Sosa, head of the police cyber-crime group in the Philippines, yesterday said the five teenagers had been turned over to social workers.
The crackdown in the Philippines was partly sparked after Daniel Perry, a 17-year-old mechanic from Dunfermline, Fife, jumped from the Forth Road Bridge in July 2013.
He had been caught up in the scheme and was warned his video conversations would be circulated to friends and family if he did not pay.
Three of the 58 Filipino suspects arrested in April are believed to have blackmailed Mr Perry. The gang has victimised around 700 Hong Kong residents and many Singaporeans in a span of two years, added Mr Sosa. Among those arrested on Thursday was a suspected female ringleader. Police found out the woman’s daughter owns two money-transfer branches in Bulacan where the victims were asked to deposit their payment, Mr Sosa said.
The information Police Scotland uncovered while investigating Mr Perry’s death formed part of the major operation.
Speaking after the arrests in April, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said: “There is no hiding place – anywhere in the world.
“A young Scottish teenager lost his life as a result of this online activity. The impact on his family, friends and wider community cannot be imagined.
“I hope that the efforts of law enforcement and our partners in Scotland and globally helps to provide some reassurance to Daniel’s family and the wider public that we are determined to tackle this type of criminality.”