Sextortion menace grips India

By Yashasvi Yadav

Big-wigs and common man alike falling prey to sleazy racket

Nondescript towns in Rajasthan and Haryana like Mewat, Bharatpur, Alwar are spinning a diabolical revolution. School-dropout teenage children and their uneducated but cunning masterminds run sextortion rackets that span across several countries and earn millions. Police officers, politicians, businessmen, doctors have all fallen prey to their machinations. India Witnesses more than 500 cases of sextortion daily (less than 0.5% are registered as FIRs), making it the sextortion capital of the world.

One of its most tragic case occurred in March 2021 when a 26-year-old MBA student in Bengaluru committed suicide after being traumatised with incessant extortion, while sex chatting with a pseudo profile.

What is sextortion?

Sextortion is a malicious online crime whereby the cyber criminals threaten to distribute or ‘make’ viral, private, sensitive and sexually explicit material to the victim, if he is not furnished with sexual favours, images of sexual nature or money.

Modus operandi

The sextortionists zero in on relatively affluent men aged 45 to 60 years. Weeks or even months of digital reconnaissance missions are launched to identify targets. Fake profiles of attractive woman are created. Friend requests are sent from these fake but realistic profiles to identified targets. The requests are from overtly friendly and seemingly attractive females in platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, dating or matrimonial sites.

At this stage the technological aspects are kept in backburner and a psychological technique called ‘social engineering’ is employed to gain the trust of the gullible victim. Social engineering refers to psychological tricks used by culprits to manipulate victims through deception and fraud.

The scammers then entice and induce them to indulge in video calls of sexual orientation, usually the female accomplices are indoctrinated to indulge in lewd video calls and record them using inbuilt or downloaded recording apps. These clips become instruments of extortion.

Evolution of sextortion

From 2006 to 2022 extortion has incarnated into following four avatars First gen Sextortion 1.0: Primarily women were perpetrated by estranged lovers who threatened to release their intimate pictures as ‘revenge porn’. Primitive recording devices were used.

Second gen Sextortion 2.0: Fake profiles of attractive girls were created by male scammers and a make-believe world was created with use of technological tools like voice modulation apps, which converted male voice into female voice over VOIP calls. Money mule bank accounts(bank accounts opened with forged documentation), were used to demand ransom, sexting over WhatsApp followed by strip video calls were used to honey trap victims. Screen recording, video editing, morphing apps, also emerged in this phase.

Third Gen Sextortion 3.0: Male extortionists started employing and training beautiful girls to entrap victims. This catapulted sextortion to an organized crime syndicate status. Money mule bank accounts were supplanted by crypto currency wallets, which provided a higher degree of impunity and anonymity.

Fourth Gen Sextortion 4.0: Latest phase, where there is no need to lure a victim or employ females to honey trap . ‘Deep-fake’ and ‘Deep-nude’ technologies have ensured that anyone can be made a victim.

The writer is an IPS officer of 2000 batch and is presently posted as Special IGP Maharashtra Cyber ​​Department and has originally written this for TOI