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How organised sextortion fraudsters could ramp up efforts to target the lonely this Christmas

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sextortion fraudsters

Lonely, vulnerable men spending Christmas alone this year should be wary of falling victim to the growing number of organised criminal gangs that are becoming involved in online sextortion blackmail scams. Police in the UK this morning said sextortion fraudsters are likely to up their activity levels over the festive period, conscious of the fact that many people passing the holidays alone will be more prone to seeking out virtual company online at this time of year. In a bid to make members of the public more aware of the scam, which has been growing in popularity over recent years, Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) yesterday released a new animation that explains how people are targeted by sextortion fraudsters, and what action they should take if they face blackmail.

Sextortion scammers set up bogus profiles on social media platforms and dating sites looking to attract lonely people in search of forming a relationship online. The fake profiles typically include pictures of attractive young women stolen from elsewhere on the internet, which are used as a means by which to draw the attention of men looking for love. While women can and do fall for sextortion scams, the majority of victims are men, with fraudsters generally more likely to target lonely females in romance scams, which often play out over a much longer period of time. After spending a short period gaining a victim’s trust once initial contact has been made, sextortion scammers persuade their targets to take their clothes off and perform sex acts in front of a webcam. As soon as this has been done, the fraudsters immediately drop their pretence and threaten to post the resultant footage online for the victim’s friends and families to see if a ransom is not paid. If the blackmailers get their money, they typically always come back for more, knowing that a victim who hands over cash once will likely do so again. On some occasions, victims have made multiple payments before realising their tormentors will just keep coming back for more.

While some cases of sextortion involve lone offenders operating independently behind a single computer screen, organised criminal gangs are increasingly becoming involved in the scam, setting up call centre-style operations in countries such as the Philippines from which multiple blackmailers target as many potential victims as possible, hoping that they bite. Cases have been reported in which scammers have managed to obtain the email addresses of a victim’s friends and family, and have threatened to distribute compromising webcam footage should a payment not be made. Investigators in both the UK and the US have reported a rising number of sextortion cases over the past few years, but believe the problem could be considerably more widespread than figures suggest, mainly on account of the fact that victims are often too embarrassed to report what has happened to them.

For some victims, falling for a sextortion scam can prove deadly, with British police claiming to be aware of at least five young men who have taken their own lives having been blackmailed over compromising webcam footage of themselves. In some cases, sextortion blackmailers have even been known to encourage their victims to commit suicide if they are unable to pay up. In August last year, a Romanian man was jailed for four years in his home country after being convicted of being behind a sextortion scam that resulted in a Northern Ireland teenager killing himself. Iulian Enache was convicted of tricking 17-year-old Ronan Hughes into sharing compromising pictures of himself online. Ransom demands from a gang Enache is said to have been a member of pushed Hughes to take his own life in June 2015.

While the successful prosecution of sextortion scammers is rare, the Hughes case demonstrates that investigators can secure convictions if they are made aware of these types of offences. Enache was caught after specialist cyber crime investigators from Northern Ireland were able to trace the computer from which he sent his blackmail threats to the teenager. In its new campaign, the NCA stresses the importance of victims coming forward as soon as possible. If you are targeted in a sextortion scam this Christmas, police recommend that you refuse to pay any money demanded, cut off all contact with the fraudsters attempting to blackmail you, and get in touch with police at the earliest opportunity. As well meaning that the criminals who targeted you might be caught and brought to justice, reporting your experience could also make it less likely that somebody else will fall victim to the same scam. While being aware of signs you might be about to fall victim to a sextortion blackmail attempt is the best way of keeping yourself safe, the fact that the crime is becoming more of a recognised problem means law enforcement agencies are now better placed to help you should you find yourself being blackmailed.

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The fact that stories about jihadists being trafficked into Europe do not make headline news is deeply troubling

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jihadists being smuggled into Europe

Astonishingly, we are now living through a time when reports of Islamist extremists being smuggled into mainland Europe from the Middle East and Africa by a people smuggling gang headed up by a Daesh supporter barely warrant any mention at all across international mainstream media. Italian police last week said they had arrested 15 members of a Mediterranean human trafficking network that may have been responsible for sneaking jihadists into Europe, along with contraband including cannabis and illicit tobacco. After originally being reported by Italian daily Il Giornale, the story was picked up by only a handful of English-language news outlets, suggesting that these types of incidents have now become so commonplace that members of the public no longer find them remarkable.

It is alarming to say the least that when applying the “man bites dog” test to stories such as these, it would appear that the majority of editors and journalists working across print, online and broadcast media deem the trafficking of dangerous ideologues into Europe to have become so routine that reporting around such incidents is no longer diverting enough to engage the attention of their audiences.

As it is likely that many readers will be unfamiliar with the story, it is worth taking a moment to go over its main points. Italian investigators said the trafficking network, which shipped migrants from Tunisia to Sicily using speedboats, was broken up after they received a tip-off from a reformed Islamist who was serving time in an Italian jail. The former extremist said he provided the intelligence that led to the gang members’ arrests to prevent the establishment of an army of “kamikaze” Islamists in Italy, suggesting that those smuggled into the country by the network may have had the desire and capacity to launch suicide attacks.

In an arrest warrant, police said the service the gang offered was particularly attractive to people who were wanted by law enforcement authorities in Tunisia, especially those who were being sought for questioning in relation to their connections with “religiously-motivated terrorist groups”. Revealing that those detained included both Italian and Tunisian nationals, investigators said they were still looking for a number of other suspects connected with the gang, who are wanted for questioning in relation to human trafficking offences. They include the group’s suspected leader, who is said to be a Tunisian man who has posted Daesh propaganda on his Facebook profile and is being sought for alleged terrorism offences.

The lack of reporting around the case is troubling for a number reasons, not least of which is a growing concern that the collapse of Daesh’s caliphate in Iraq and Syria might lead to an increase in the number of extremists linked to the group attempting to return to Europe. But what is perhaps more worrying is the fact that this is happening at a time when huge numbers of migrants are still being allowed to flood into Europe mostly unchecked from the Middle East and Africa. While the numbers are falling, migrant crossings of the Mediterranean into Europe topped 100,000 for the fifth year running in 2018. At the beginning of last year, Interpol warned that as many as 50 Daesh fighters had managed to enter Italy illegally after crossing the Mediterranean on traffickers’ boats. With the number of former militants fleeing Daesh’s former heartland on the rise, it would not be surprising if demand for such crossings increases, and plots such as the one uncovered by police in Italy result in more Islamists entering European countries while politicians and the media are looking the other way.

At the same time as all this is happening, governments across Europe appear willing to go to great lengths to keep right-wing activists out of their countries, such as the Canadian YouTuber Lauren Southern and the US white supremacist Richard Spencer. While both of these individuals openly harbour views that many people find extremely offensive, banning them from entering European countries while standing back and doing nothing as an unknown number of potential Islamist extremists are allowed to slip in illegally unchecked is utter madness. Europe must of course take its fair share of refugees who are fleeing war and persecution in the countries from which genuine asylum seekers are fleeing, but the time has surely come to insist that those who wish to make a claim for help do so legally.

Preventing migrants from illegally crossing the Mediterranean and encouraging them to apply for asylum through the proper channels will both ensure that only those in genuine need receive the help they deserve, and that governments in Europe have a vital opportunity to do all they can to ensure that extremists who mean to do their people harm are stopped from entering their countries. If things are allowed to continue the way they are, it will likely only be a matter of time before an Islamist who has slipped into Europe illegally while disguised as a migrant does something that truly is newsworthy.

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Opinion

The crime and exploitation social justice enthusiasts appear happy to ignore

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social justice enthusiasts

Social media has for years now been rammed with politically correct right-on types who enjoy little more than informing anybody who cares to listen about the virtuous manner in which they live their lives, and how the choices they make are helping to save the world. This might take the form of boasting about how they became vegan, not only due to the fact that eating meat and dairy products is so very cruel to animals, but also because living as a carnivore is terribly bad for the environment. Similarly sanctimonious individuals might make a big song and dance about their insistence that everything they buy is “ethically sourced”.

While this type of behaviour is highly admirable and is absolutely to be encouraged, it is not uncommon to find that the people who shout loudest about how woke they are in areas such as these actually make multiple life choices and purchasing decisions that support many forms of criminality and exploitation that they appear to be quite content to ignore. Often, merely scratching the surface of the lives of the scrupulously politically correct reveals that they indulge in easily avoidable behaviour that is not difficult to link back to forced labour and violence.

Drugs

While illicit drugs are of course in and of themselves illegal, middle class substance abuse is rife across the western world. So much so in fact that the head of London’s Metropolitan Police last year criticised the hypocrisy of people with outwardly progressive politics thinking little of the consequences of their after-dinner line of cocaine. Cressida Dick called out members of the chattering classes who “happily think about global warming and fair trade, and environmental protection and all sorts of things, [such as] organic food”, and then go on to take a drug linked to death, violence and suffering both in the UK and in the countries in which it is produced.

Earlier this week, Britain’s National Crime Agency warned that drug dealers on the dark web are actually marketing their products as “vegan” and “ethically friendly” in an attempt to attract this type of user. Dick is of course entirely correct; pontificating about fair trade coffee and bananas prior to taking a drug whose very presence in your country has left behind it a trail of blood and misery is surely the very height of hypocrisy.

Food

The perennially virtuous are often very keen on using food as a means by which to signal their progressive attitudes towards other sentient beings and the wellbeing of the planet in general. Leaving aside the fact that those who complain about factory farming are typically nowhere near as vocal when it comes to barbaric religious slaughter methods that ought to be outlawed – vegetarians, vegans and those who like to boast about how everything they eat is ethically sourced can be surprisingly ignorant about the role forced labour and crime can play in getting the food they eat on their table.

For years now, campaigners have been warning that the seafood industry is built largely on a form of modern slavery that sees workers paid little or no money to put in gruelling 20-hour shifts on fishing trawlers while being regularly beaten, in some cases to death. Despite this, it remains rare to hear anybody voice concern that the prawns they buy at their local supermarket might have been caught by a victim of forced labour. While it is of course unpleasant to think that a chicken could have spent its life in factory farm conditions, it seems curious that many consumers appear more worried about whether or not their eggs are free range than the possibility that a Thai trawler worker may have been killed while catching the shrimp they plan to eat for their supper.

Technology

It is an often quoted cliché that anti-capitalist hipsters who complain about the evils of consumerism and greed tend often to do so on social media using $1,000 smartphones while sitting in Starbucks drinking an absurdly overpriced latte. But all joking aside, the number of people who claim to care about social justice who use connected devices produced by workers toiling in slave-like conditions that would most likely be illegal in their own countries remains breath-taking. While it may be the case that Apple was last year handed an award for its efforts to eradicate modern slavery from its supply chains, the iPhone maker and its fellow hardware manufacturers have a long way to go when it comes to being able to guarantee that their products have not been made by people working in illegal conditions.

Regardless, the fact that revelations about abuses in the company’s supply chains still arise with alarming regularity seems to be of little concern to those who use their Apple products to signal their virtue on social media platforms, some of which have been known to promote human trafficking and paedophilia.

All of the above examples have been widely reported on by mainstream media outlets over recent years, but it appears that for some with progressive politics, there are certain instances where practicing the social justice doctrine they preach is simply too inconvenient.

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Opinion

The real crime is turning a blind eye to forced marriage in the first place

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turning a blind eye to forced marriage

An investigation conducted by the Times of London has revealed that the British government is asking UK victims of forced marriage who are sent overseas to cover the cost of their own rescue. According to the paper, victims who muster the courage to escape their fate before being wed to men they do not know are told they must repay the cost of their repatriation to the UK should they not be able to come up with the necessary funds immediately. According to the Times, the British Foreign Office confiscates victims’ passports until they have repaid their “debt”, and even adds 10% interest in the event they are unable to settle in full within six months.

The paper’s revelations have rightly prompted British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to call for an investigation into its findings, as well as drawing condemnation from commentators expressing disgust that the government could behave in such an abhorrent fashion. But while it is of course an outrage that young girls who have been betrayed by their own families should be forced to pay to secure their freedom and safety, the real scandal is that authorities are not intervening before they are sent overseas to be married to total strangers in the first place.

Unfortunately for them, it would appear that the cultural shift brought about by the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements has yet to benefit victims of forced marriage, who are sent to countries they might never have been to, in most cases by their own relatives, to be forcibly married to typically much older men they have not met. As has been the case in the past with Asian paedophile grooming gangs and suspected cases of female genital mutilation, it is thought that police and social workers in Britain have been reluctant to intervene in cases of forced marriage through fear of being labelled “racist”. A blind eye is said to often be turned when female students from certain cultural backgrounds disappear from schools or colleges for no good reason, with authorities apparently just expecting this to happen with girls from some minority communities.

In August of last year, a separate investigation conducted by the Times found that the UK Home Office had been issuing visas to foreign men who had forcibly married young British girls, some of whom had been raped and made pregnant abroad in an apparent attempt to make their husbands’ applications for permission to enter the UK more likely to succeed. It was claimed that victims had been sent to countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and India to be made pregnant by their new husbands, before being returned back to Britain to give birth. At this point, victims’ husbands would apply for a UK visa, using the fact that their wives and children were already in the UK as leverage.

Despite evidence suggesting that this and similar practices have been routinely taking place in Britain for decades, the first forced marriage conviction in the UK was only secured in 2015, highlighting how woeful authorities’ response to the problem has been. While forced marriage is illegal in Britain, with offenders found guilty of the crime facing up to seven years behind bars, convictions are far and few between, suggesting that hundreds if not thousands of young girls are being forced  into marriages against their will with little hope of intervention.

With victims often too afraid to come forward, and police and social workers seemingly too afraid to intervene due to political correctness, it looks likely that these girls will continue to be exploited unless there is real institutional change. If any progress is to be made, police, teachers and social workers must be trained how to spot the signs that young girls might be at risk of forced marriage. At the same time, the stigma of calling out such practices must end, with any suggestion that doing so is in any way racist being dismissed.

If we are to be candid, the practice of forced marriage can involve or lead to all manner of other crimes, including child sexual exploitation, kidnap, rape, modern slavery and illegal immigration. Is it not “racist” to turn a blind eye when these offences occur within minority communities when they would in most cases be doggedly investigated and prosecuted when found in society at large? It should go without saying that victims of forced marriage should not have to pay for their own rescue, and one would hope that the revelations uncovered by the Times will lead to this rather cruel policy being brought to an end as soon as possible. However, it is undoubtedly more important that western societies do not allow cultural relativism or fear of being labelled racist prevent the investigation of a revolting crime that causes victims immeasurable harm and suffering.

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