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Sex blackmail crackdown implicates 100 more Filipinos

MANILA, Philippines -- About 100 more Filipino suspects are linked to online blackmail syndicates that extorted money from victims worldwide after luring them into exposing themselves in front of webcams or engaging in lewd chats, a Philippine police official said Tuesday.

Authorities arrested 58 suspects in Manila and three outlying regions two weeks ago in a crackdown backed by Interpol and police from four countries, including the United States. The suspects were traced through online chats from victims' computers.

Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa of the police's Anti-Cybercrime Group said an investigation has linked 100 more suspects to the syndicates, including some who received a share of money extorted from victims. The additional suspects will be arrested and charged if evidence clearly shows their involvement, he said.

"After the initial arrests, many other suspects have been lying low," Sosa said. "But international collaboration and information-sharing have really helped us to identify and track them."

The syndicates prey on mostly male victims by employing women with fake Facebook accounts who strike up online chats. The victims are duped into engaging in lewd talk, exposing themselves before a webcam or performing a sexual act, which are secretly recorded and used to blackmail them, Philippine police said.

Wider Internet access, a relatively lower risk of arrest and big financial gains have caused such crimes to flourish in recent years in many countries.

Interpol said it's difficult to estimate numbers, but there could be "hundreds of thousands" of such victims. The online extortion groups usually ask for $500 from each victim but have demanded up to $15,000, according to Interpol.

The crackdown in the Philippines was partly sparked by information that a 17-year-old mechanic in Scotland, Daniel Perry, took his own life in July last year after being victimized by a Filipino extortion group. The BBC has reported that he killed himself after being warned that his video conversations would be circulated to his friends and family if he didn't pay.

Three of the 58 arrested Filipino suspects were believed to have victimized Perry, who jumped off a bridge after being blackmailed by the syndicate, Sosa said.

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