Hey there, you look hot, said a Facebook message from a supposedly beautiful girl with an assumingly fake name. Prashant, on the other hand, smiled receiving this message not knowing what fate would unfold. After exchanging a few photos and messages particularly amorphous in nature Prashant realized that the girl is quite smart, intelligent and totally out of his league. So, he enthusiastically went further. Little did he know that he was being trapped and would be extorted later, on the basis of his sleazy chats and videos.
As the internet has made rapid strides over the past few years and has become an intrinsic part of our lives. This has obviously made the life of a commoner easier. Faster connectivity and social media have definitely come as game-changers allowing us to keep in touch with our friends on an instantaneous basis. However, there is also a flip side to the revolutionary growth of the internet.
One of the negative aspects of the unprecedented growth of the internet and social media is sextortion.
Various reports have brought the online sex industry, that is running big around the world, into the limelight. Australia recorded 3,981 such cases in the year 2018. The United kingdom records one such case related to fraud in online dating every three hours. Countries including Spain, Canada, the US and Argentina have also been affected by this insidious crime. However, no one is comfortable talking about it.
Online sex is a huge industry, with various cam-chat sites. People visit these sites and meet people from around the world. They engage in online fun and pleasure.
But the online sex industry is not just limited to chat sites, it has unfortunately spread to social media sites as well – Facebook, Instagram. ‘Girls’ visit various pages on FB and Instagram and look for potential customers/target. These online offenders then text the potential victims/ targets and that is how sextortion starts.
Notably, the perpetrators involved in such tactics offer paid service to the customers online (cam). The dangers of these websites or tactics are that the victim is exposing himself to unknown people who cannot be trusted. Such a casual and careless attitude often leads to dire consequences. While the events leading up to the online fraud in the form of sextortion might seem innocuous, there is a deep-rooted conspiracy behind it. Before the victim can even imagine, he is taken for a ride.
Many times the bait associated with sextortion is not just in the form of online service, but also involves offers of a real meeting. This can be that much more of incitement for the potential victims. Those who fall for this trap don’t know the kind of trouble they are pushing themselves into. These seekers often have no idea what they are going to get trapped and fall into the hands of probably an entire mafia. The losses associated with this global phenomenon are harm to reputation, physical and monetary loss.
India is particularly vulnerable to the risks associated with cyber-crimes including sextortion. India has the second-highest number of internet users, next only to China. In 2018, there were more than 48 crore internet users in India, that forms a little more than 34 per cent of the total population. Cyber-crimes are therefore also on the rise. There were around 2,402 cyber-crime cases in the year 2016. The figure went up to 3,474 in the year 2017. This shows a rapid rise in cyber-crimes.
India has not remained untouched from the evil of sextortion too. Take the infamous case of Priya Seth-Tinder for example. A boy, Dushyant Sharma was murdered in a premeditated manner by his Tinder match Priya Seth, who turned out to be a chronic fraudster, along with her accomplices.
As stated earlier, sextortion is a global phenomenon. It started from the West but it has officially reached even India now. It must be noted that since the crime is still at a very nascent stage, that is, it has not been legally defined or made specifically punishable in most of the jurisdictions, there are serious issues when it comes to investigation and prosecution of such acts.
The Brookings report is the first in-depth study of the phenomenon of sextortion. The report identified 78 perpetrators and 3,000 victims, after which Alabama, Arkansas, California, Texas, and Utah in the US enacted laws criminalising the act of sextortion. However, the US is yet to enact a federal law on this issue.
As far as India is concerned, one doubts if the policymakers are thinking in the direction of enacting safeguards against sextortion or criminalising it. There is no in-depth research study on this phenomenon either. Therefore, India does not seem to have even properly identified this danger, let alone moving in the right direction. It seems unlikely that the jurisprudence will evolve in the near future in order to punish the growing menace. Even law enforcement agencies will find it difficult to chalk out a strategy to curb this mischief in lack of any legislative guidelines.
With the State yet to enact any legislation or even consider enacting it, it is the social media users who have to be extremely cautious while going online. The potential risks and anti-social elements are no longer limited to just shady websites and dating apps. It has spread over to social media websites as well. And this is exactly why every social media user ought to be careful. No one can claim absolute immunity from the menace as such anti-social elements have spread all over the web and one can get trapped from even seemingly harmless websites/ apps.
The social media users must make it a point not to go out of their way and get more friendly than needed with an absolute stranger. If a complete stranger shows an unnaturally high level of romantic interest in you, then it is often an obvious sign of an online scam. Social media users must also make it a point not to compromise details that can be used for extortion of money, illicit favours, etc. or which can compromise personal identity. Sextortion has officially entered India and it is the social media users who must beware of it for their own good.