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Parents, beware: Blackmailers target kids as young as 7

Ismail Sebugwaawo and Afkar Abdullah/Abu Dhabi
Filed on February 19, 2021
Reuters

Public prosecutors in Abu Dhabi have said youngsters most vulnerable to online blackmail are those aged seven to 18 years.

Never trust strangers you meet on the Internet, the authorities have reiterated. With more people now glued to their screens, the police have warned that online blackmailers are increasingly on the prowl. And their primary target? The youth.

Public prosecutors in Abu Dhabi have said youngsters most vulnerable to online blackmail are those aged seven to 18 years. This is why parents have to step in and take action, too.

Advocate and legal consultant Nasser Malalla Ghanem have raised concern about youngsters’ online activity, calling on families and the school community to get involved.

“Parents and schools should educate children on the safe ways of using the internet and social media,” Ghanem said, adding that families should strictly monitor what their children do online.

“Youngsters should avoid chatting with strangers they find online because this makes them vulnerable to blackmailing. Children must also be taught the dos and don’ts on social media and what they can and cannot share online.”

Usually, blackmailers are between the age of 18 and 25, according to the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department. At least 424 suspects in the Capital stood trial for the crime in 2020.

Last year — when the Covid pandemic pushed people’s lives to the cyber jungle — 208 online blackmail cases were recorded in Abu Dhabi between January and August, according to the emirate’s judicial department. And in most cases, the victims were women who faced sexual and physical threats.

Scammers might also pose as women to gain victims’ trust, the police said in its new awareness drive. “The online predators usually monitor the activity of children and teenagers on various social media sites, including Snapchat and Instagram,” the force added, warning parents that fraudsters might also be lurking in kids’ online games.

Though the youth are among those vulnerable, anybody can be a victim.

In one court case just last month, an Abu Dhabi court ordered an Arab youth to pay a woman Dh750,000 as compensation after subjecting her to online threats. He first befriended her online, asked her for private photos, and then told her he would publish her inappropriate snaps if she didn’t give in to his demands. The victim had ended up giving him Dh700,000 — an amount that he was directed to return, in addition to the compensation.

When blackmailing happens — no matter the circumstances — it should be reported to the police.

“Victims of blackmail should immediately report the matter to police. Hesitating and failing to report the crimes would make the situation even worse,” advised Ali Al Abadi, a criminal lawyer in Abu Dhabi. “Giving in to the demands of online criminals will make way for further escalation of threats as they are greedy and would take advantage of the victim’s vulnerability.”

Blackmailing doesn’t always happen between strangers. There could be former friends or even ex-lovers who would leverage whatever private matter they have at hand to get what they want.

In Sharjah, a police official said there had been cases when an abuser took more than a year to befriend and gain a target’s trust. And when the unsuspecting person was already comfortable with the ‘newfound acquaintance’, the harassment began. Threats about circulating private photos were issued. Money was demanded non-stop. “The crime may lead some victims to take their lives to get away with scandal or disgrace” the official commented.

One in every 100 Internet users in Sharjah could be a cyber-blackmail victim, based on figures in recent years, the police official added.

Divulging such an experience is easier said than done — especially because blackmailers have always aimed to make victims feel extremely ashamed and embarassed.

“Some of the victims of blackmail are reluctant to report the criminals to the authorities as they are scared they would face charges for committing wrongful acts. This sometimes leads to the blackmailers assaulting the victims or extorting money from them,” Abdullah Hamad Al Mansouri, chief prosecutor in Abu Dhabi, said at a recent media forum.

To address this issue, the authorities have created ways to assure victims that any information will be kept private. The Abu Dhabi Judicial Department had introduced an app called ‘Inform the Prosecution’, through which the public can send complaints in a way that will keep confidentiality intact.

In Sharjah, the police allotted a special e-mail (tech_crimes@shjpolice.gov.ae), where victims can report the crime. They can also dial 065943228. “Issues are dealt with confidentially by specialists and people handling cybercrimes,” assured Colonel Arif Hassan Hudaib, director of media and public relations of the Sharjah Police.

According to the UAE online law, people found guilty of blackmail face two years in jail and a fine between Dh250,000 and Dh500,000.

Fake healer tricks woman into sending private photos

Cybercriminals have numerous tactics up their sleeves to dupe Internet users into sharing personal information and private photos.

In a police case in Sharjah, a woman fell victim to the scheme of a man who claimed he could treat ailments using herbs and scriptures.

The woman, N.A.A, said her colleagues introduced her to the Arab ‘healer’ identified as JZM. She got in touch with him over the phone, asking whether he could treat some body pain. He then asked her to send a downpayment of Dh10,000, plus her photos.

On WhatsApp, he then asked her to send nude pictures so he could “see where the pain was located”. He also demanded additional money for the treatment. She sent him the photos and the Dh6,000 cash, but he continued to demand more. When she said she would stop sending cash, the man threatened to publish her pictures on Facebook. The woman decided to tell the police, which have launched a probe and a manhunt for the blackmailer.

reporters@khaleejtimes.com





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