MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine police, backed by Interpol, have arrested dozens of suspected members of an online extortion syndicate who duped hundreds of victims worldwide into exposing themselves in front of webcams or engaging in lewd chats, including a Scottish teenager who committed suicide after being blackmailed, officials said Friday.
At least 58 Filipino suspects in the capital, Manila, and three other regions were arrested this week after investigators from Interpol, the U.S. Homeland Security Department and police from three other countries traced online chats from some of the victims' computers, Philippine National Police chief Allan Purisima said.
More than 260 desktop and laptop computers, mobile phones, pornographic materials and other pieces of evidence were seized during the raids by 15 police teams, he told a news conference in Manila.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, director of the Philippine police Anti-Cybercrime Group, said of the arrests on Wednesday and Thursday, one of the largest hauls by local police in recent years.
Many more suspects and extortion gangs remain at large and will be pursued, he said.
Interpol said that one Filipino syndicate, based in Naga city, southeast of Manila, operated with more than 100 members. Hong Kong police also helped identify another "sextortion" syndicate based in Bulacan province, north of Manila, which targeted victims in Hong Kong, Britain, Australia, the United States and South Korea.
Easy access to the Internet, a relatively lower risk of arrest and big financial gains have caused such crimes to flourish in recent years in countries such as the Philippines.
The syndicates prey on mostly male victims by employing women with fake Facebook accounts who strike up online chats with them. The victims are duped into engaging in lewd talk, exposing themselves before a webcam or performing a sexual act which are recorded and used to blackmail them, Philippine police said.