The comfort zone that technology creates for most of us makes us forget how easy it is to be duped by strangers. Many individuals have fallen victims to cyber criminals but now, university students are being targeted, police say.
Several cases of university students being blackmailed by cyber criminals have been recently reported to Sharjah police, which prompted the force to reach out to students and warn them.
Col Ebrahim Al Ajel, director of Sharjah Police's Criminal investigations Department, said there is a significant increase in the number of online extortion cases reported to them by students.
"Cyber criminals are targeting young students assuming they lack the awareness that prevents them from falling victims to their schemes," said Col Al Ajel.
He said an awareness campaign targeting university students is currently being planned.
"The biggest challenge we face is that some victims don't report being blackmailed," he said, adding that all such cases are dealt with the utmost secrecy, which should encourage victims to come forward and report cases.
He said Sharjah police recently organised a campaign to combat digital crimes through educating community members on necessary precautions when online and on ways to strengthen their security.
"The campaign, Be Careful of Being Lured, included distributing brochures in three different languages (Arabic, English and Urdu) to society members such as university students. The brochures include a definition of electronic extortion and guidelines for the safe use of social media and other technologies," he said.
MM, a 20-year-old Egyptian university student who wished to remain anonymous, said that a year ago she was subjected to a horrible experience when a stranger claimed he obtained some pictures of her in a bikini and threatened to send them to her family.
"I come from a very conservative family and it would have been a disaster if they saw the pictures," she said.
After the blackmailer contacted her using a fake account on Instagram, she became depressed and closed all her social media accounts.
"I didn't know who to trust. I reported his account and it was shutdown, but a few days later he contacted me from a new account. I reported it again and it was shutdown, then the same thing happened – a new account, I report it, it gets shutdown and he appears with a new one," she said, adding that it kept happening for a few weeks.
The friends of Mass Communication student, Farah Jamal, 21, approached her one day wondering why she was very curious to know extremely private information during their latest chat on Facebook.
"I was stunned and my friends were puzzled because they know I never ask private questions, but it turned out someone faked an account and impersonated me before starting to contact my friends," said Farah, who reported the account to Facebook.
Statistics revealed by the Cyber Security Centre in February 2017 showed that the UAE is now the second most targeted country after the US.