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Italian police investigate Skype use for 'porno blackmail'

Philip Willan | March 12, 2014
Italian police in Genoa have opened an investigation into the use of Skype to trap victims into online sexual indiscretions, which are recorded and used as a pretext for extortion.

Given the shame and embarrassment generated by this type of scam, investigators believe only a fraction of cases are coming to light.

Last August a 17-year-old English boy, Daniel Perry, committed suicide by jumping from a bridge after blackmailers threatened to make public his erotic Skype conversations with a person he believed to be a girl living in the U.S. state of Illinois.

The phenomenon has also been reported in New Zealand, where scammers are said to be demanding the equivalent of US $850 in return for a promise not to publish embarrassing Skype videos.

"I can guarantee you that there will be a lot of people falling for it," Detective Aaron Pascoe told the New Zealand Herald earlier this month. "They are asking for over (New Zealand) $1,000 and there will be people out there paying."

In a Web page urging people to "stay smart online," the Australian government has been warning against the danger of Skype video calls with strangers.

"During the video call the scammer may attempt to lead you into participating in intimate sexual activity or nudity, which can later be used to blackmail you," the site warns.

The site adds that Remote Access Trojans (RAT) "can remotely activate your webcam, at the same time disabling your camera indicator light. These images can also be used to blackmail you."

Bulk collection of webcam imagery by Britain's electronic surveillance agency GCHQ appears to have discovered, alongside putative terrorist threats, that "a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person."

Britain's Guardian newspaper reported last month that the spy agency had targeted millions of Yahoo users' webcam images in a bulk collection program called Optic Nerve.

The information, provided by U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, included the unexpected revelation that between 3 percent and 11 percent of the Yahoo imagery contained "undesirable nudity".

GCHQ staff were advised not to open the material if it was likely to make them uncomfortable and were reminded that "dissemination of offensive material is a disciplinary offense."

The Italian postal police's Belardini warns that any images released onto the Internet should be considered as effectively in the public domain, so people need to be alert about what they post or allow to be recorded.

"This crime touches a very delicate aspect of people's personal sphere," she said. "People feel safe when they are in the privacy of their home, so their inhibitions can slip. You have to be very careful about what you share online."

 

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