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The Dark Side of the Internet

Figure 1: The Dark Web 

The dark side of the internet is explored in a documentary produced by Channel NewsAsia. In the feature, we discuss how #privacy is not being taken seriously at a personal level, opening the door for blackmail and sextortion syndicates among other criminal enterprises.

The documentary series explores how crime has evolved as a result of social media, social networks/forums and apps, in a ripple or butterfly effect that affects how crime is committed, how new genres or modus operandi of crime have been created, how authorities solve crime in different ways and the challenges they face.

Figure 2: The Dark Web documentary 


Watch the full documentary at:



Sextortion scams are ran by online syndicates, specifically a syndicate run by a Maria Caparas in the Philippines.

Maria Caparas has been called the Queen of Sextortion by Philippine newspapers, who believe that she invented this genre of sextortion scams. She was first linked to this type of crime in international news after the 2013 suicide of a sextortion victim, 17 year old teenager Daniel Perry in Scotland. British police linked her syndicate to his death and sought extradition of one of the sextortion ‘chatters’ from her group as the one responsible for speaking directly to Perry, extorting money from him, with threats to release the video, and even taunting him that he was better off dead if he couldn’t pay.

More information on Caparas, her background, her personality:

The modus operandi of a sextortion scam is as follows:

Sextortion syndicate workers, called ‘chatters’, seek out their targets through dating websites such as Tagged, or social media platforms such as Facebook. A chatter has revealed that he would also seek out victims using keywords like “engineers in Singapore”, “engineers in Malaysia” etc, to find victims who earn well, have a good lifestyle. They target English-speaking victims.

The chatters create fake identities of young, attractive women. They often clone existing accounts which are public on social media, replicating a real person’s photos, social media activity, posts, etc. This makes their account look realistic.

Once they have the name of the target from the dating website, it’s easy to find them on FB. They then request to become FB friends. Once they are FB friends, the chatters have access to an incredible amount of public information about the target. This includes the target’s entire life and network of relations — including wives, girlfriends, family, friends, etc.

The chatters then initiate conversation with their target, and their conversation very quickly becomes intimate. Chatters have revealed that this can happen within a matter of 30 minutes. At this stage, the chatters request the target to move to a video chat either on the platform messenger service, or on a separate app like Skype.

Over the video chat, the chatters play a pre-recorded video, often sourced from porn websites. The targets believe that they are doing a live video chat with the chatter. The chatters also type out conversations with the target, often encouraging him to strip naked or perform acts, by first playing the portion of the video in which the porn actor does the action first.

The chatters use these pre-recorded videos and often memorise them by heart, knowing at which point the porn actor does a certain action (example: blow me a kiss, take off your shirt), which they are able to quickly toggle to using key points. They are thus able to swiftly react to any of the typed requests coming from the target.

During this entire time, the target is being filmed via their camera/webcam, and once they have been filmed in a compromising situation, the call ends.

The chatters do not make their threats immediately — they will call back later (hours, or days later) and the compromising video is played back to the target, or the chatters send an unlisted YouTube video link to the target. The chatters then threaten the target to release the video to their network of family and friends, unless they pay a certain sum to a money transfer account (example: Western Union).

Many times, the targets choose to pay the sum of money, for fear of the video being released publicly. If the targets pay, the chatters will go back to them again and again for more money, using the same threats, until the targets cut off all contact or report it to the police.

The syndicate had chatters working in shifts in an office-type setting, with computer terminals in a room. During a chatter’s shift, they would have multiple targets lined up one after another, with the next targets already queued up. When police operations have captured chatters and rounded them up, chatters have even split up to work freelance, independently in their own homes — all they need is an internet connection.

The chatters were often underage minors, gays, and transgenders in midst of transitioning into females. A gay chatter has revealed that they are often good at it because they know how to ‘sweet talk’ their targets.

Maria Caparas is thought to have based her sextortion syndicate on her previous experience as a cybersex worker, in which the clients (often older men) would pay for the cybersex encounter.

Details provided by Sora Media.

Lastly, cyber criminals target the weakest link; humans. Thus, whatever you see on the Internet does not mean it is trustworthy or reliable.

#cyber #cyberrisk #datasecurity #cyberattacks #remoteworkforce #singapore #asiapacific