Online blackmail cases in Dubai increase by 42 per cent

Many complaints received through the Al Ameen service, which was set up to spread awareness about social media privacy.

DUBAI // Online blackmail is increasing at an alarming rate, authorities say.

Ghaith Al Mazaina, manager of business affairs at the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, said the 275 per cent increase in reports to police in the past two years went beyond more people filing complaints as awareness spread.

“There has been an increase in the amount of cases of blackmail,” Mr Al Mazaina said.

“Criminals look for their victims using social media. Many people are not protecting their privacy. They are posting their personal details on their social media pages.”

A court last month sentenced a Nigerian secretary to three years in jail after she blackmailed fellow countrywomen into prostitution.

She took the photos and video of the women naked or in compromising positions after she lured them to Dubai by paying for their travel expenses.

Her case was among 300 reports made last year, up from 212 in 2014 and 80 in 2013.

In 2014 police registered 73 cases of cyber extortion.

In another case, Sharjah Police arrested a man in January after he hacked into a girl’s ­social media account, stealing her photos and videos and ­using them for blackmail.

The cases came to light ­after complaints were received through Al Ameen, a collaboration between the TRA and Dubai Police. One of its aims is to spread awareness about social media privacy.

Mr Al Mazaina said many of the cases began with blackmailers searching for their victims online through their social networks. They then ask the victim for a video chat.

If the invitation is accepted, the criminal will try to get the victim into a compromising situation that is later used against them, with threats of posting a video or photo ­unless money is paid.

“This keeps the victim under pressure, and in some cases it leads to suicide,” said Mr Al Mazaina, referring to a recent case in Kuwait.

The increase in the number of cases prompted authorities to launch Al Ameen service last May, he said.

A federal law was issued in 2012 to fight cyber crimes, he said. It included jail terms and fines for those who invaded the privacy of others and blackmailed them. Mr Al Mazaina urged people to contact Al Ameen if they were threatened by cyber extortionists.

“They guarantee privacy and have opened this channel to make people feel safe and report such incidents,” he said.

When incidents are reported, internet service providers are informed and told to block access to the content.

“In other cases, if it’s a link with social media, we have direct contact with those companies to have them ­remove the content,” said Mr Al Mazaina.

Similar online blackmail warnings have been issued by police forces around the world, including those in ­Canada, the UK, Nigeria and Australia.

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