Men in their 40s soft targets of sextortion gangs, say Gujarat cops | Ahmedabad News – Times of India

AHMEDABAD: Exercise caution when putting up personal information and expanding your friends’ list on social media accounts. Cybercriminals thriving on social networking websites have been gleaning information about their potential victims, mostly men in their 40s, from Facebook and coaxing them to share their WhatsApp numbers so they can be lured into sextortion traps.
Gujarat police have, since early 2021, identified 14,481 accounts on Facebook and Instagram that were used by gangs for sextortion purposes in the state. Between January 2022 and February 1 this year, 2,382 complaints pertaining to sextortion calls were registered on helpline ‘1930’.
These complaints are just the tip of the iceberg. There were many more victims and only a few have approached the helpline,” said a senior CID crime official who is part of the cybercrime cell.
In February alone, CID crime had requested Meta, Facebook’s parent company, to remove 773 accounts. Of these, Meta responded to 663 requests while requests for other accounts are still being studied.
According to police sources, these gangs lift photos of women from social media and create fake profiles on Instagram and Facebook to lure men. “A striking feature about such fake profiles is that they all have only male followers. Our cybercrime prevention team at the CID has been monitoring these fraudulent accounts,” says Manish Bhankharia, inspector, cyber forensics and prevention, CID crime.
He added, “Men in their 40s are usually the soft targets of the sextortion gangs for two basic reasons. Firstly, most are married, and they fear being shamed in front of their family members or society. Secondly, it is assumed that they have a good amount of savings and can afford the extortion amount. We have been repeatedly advising people to stop responding to the extortion threats and the gang will stop pursuing you.”
Initially, when the CID officials tracked the numbers used for extortion purposes, they found the same IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number linked to about 200 sim cards. This means, 200 different sim cards were used by one mobile device to make extortion calls.
The gangs, which typically belong to Mewat, Bharatpur and Alwar, usually look up the victim’s Facebook friends’ list and study his posts and the interactions that follow. “They study the accounts of men and their circle of friends. This enables them to blackmail the victims as the extortion will involve taking names of their near and dear ones,” said Bhankharia. He added, “These people have no other work except prying on social media accounts. The strike rate, however, is not more than eight to 10 victims a day.”
The extortion amount starts from Rs 5,000 and can escalate to as high as Rs 2.7 crore – as was the case with a 68-year-old businessman from the Navrangpura area who filed a complaint in January this year. The blackmail amount is boosted depending on the victim’s response.
B M Tank, DySP cyber cell, Gujarat CID (crime), said, “There is a social stigma attached to reporting sextortion cases. The victims don’t come forward to register FIRs and it is because of this that the criminals get emboldened. Our cybercrime prevention team has been proactive in locating these gangs prowling on social media. However, curtailing this menace without public participation would be a Herculean task.”

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