This was a horrendous crime. Hiding behind the anonymity of the internet, the gang are believed, using false Facebook accounts, to have posed as young women trying to befriend impressionable young men, getting them to video them exposing themselves and then threatening to post the video for all to see unless they paid up hush money.
Daniel Perry, 17, from Dunfermline, is believed to have been a victim of these despicable people. Apparently he feared such humiliation that he took his own life. A young apprentice mechanic with his life before him, who must have believed he was enjoying an internet romance only for it to turn into a nightmare at the hands of callous extortionists operating from a bizarre parody of a call centre.
The police operation to track down the culprits is nothing short of remarkable. Not only were those believed responsible hiding behind the cyberfog of the internet, but they were thousands of miles away in the Philippines. However, detectives from Police Scotland were able to amass enough information to go to Interpol. The international agency assembled a task force of officers from Scotland and four other countries – the United States, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia – to narrow down the search to particular individuals.
The Philippine authorities and police seem to have needed little encouragement for them to stage massive raids by 15 teams of officers who have arrested 58 suspects and seized about 260 laptops and desktops, plus mobile phones, pornography and other material. Praise to them for not allowing national pride or politics to get in the way of what looks to have been a highly successful operation.
Of course, there is still a long way to go before a case with a good chance of a conviction can be assembled against the three suspects identified by Police Scotland as being involved in Daniel Perry’s death and who have now been arrested.
The internet’s anonymity may still be a problem in bringing a prosecution. Gang members may yet be needed to testify against each other.
And sadly, it doesn’t mean that this type of crime is at an end. The Filipino police believe there are many more of these extortionist gangs, one believed to involve more than 100 criminals. Even the success of this operation is unlikely to deter them from continuing, so lucrative has this dreadful trade become.
But now the determination of Scottish detectives has proved there is no safe hiding place for them. We hope this will prove a turning point in the battle against cybercrime.