‘nude video call’ sextortion
Credit: Representational image

Kohima: Hardly a day goes by when we do not hear of cybercrimes. From phishing, online banking frauds, defamation, impersonation, online relationship frauds, to revenge porn, it is clear that the internet can be a dangerous place for those who let their guard down. And these crimes saw a rise during the pandemic when millions across the world were locked up inside four walls, and the internet was their only window to the world. It is no different for Nagaland residents, who are now waking up a trend called ‘nude video call’ sextortion, where people are lured through video calling apps and are duped, blackmailed and extorted. 

Manoj Kumar, Superintendent of Police (Crime) told EastMojo that sextortion cases were reported for the first time in Nagaland last year. Since then, Kohima, Dimapur and Zunheboto districts have reported several cases. 

“There may be many unreported cases,” Kumar added. 

Zaddy (name changed), a 27-year-old from Kohima, shared how two days after he befriended a female stranger online, he received a barrage of text messages in his inbox. Little did Zaddy know that finding a companion online could make him a victim of the new online sextortion.

Online sextortion occurs when someone threatens to distribute private and sensitive material using an electronic medium if he/she doesn’t provide images of a sexual nature, sexual favours, or money.

Zaddy tells EastMojo that about a week ago, as he got home from work around midnight, he received video calls from the ‘new friend’ on Facebook, minutes after he responded to the many unread messages sent by the user.

As the phone kept buzzing, he responded to the call only to face a nude video of a female on his mobile screen. “I immediately realised that the account could be of a sex extortionist. The nude contents were displayed on the screen. I was so shocked,” he said.

Unfortunately for Zaddy, his face was recorded over the online video call. As he disconnected the call and began to ignore the calls, the fraudster sent him the screen recording. “For about an hour, I was so scared, and I did not know what to do. When she asked for my contact, I shared my phone number as I wanted to find out about the caller through an App which identifies who and where the call is made from,” he recalled.

In addition to the screen recording, the fraudster also took pictures from his online account and morphed them into pornographic pictures and videos. The user then began to blackmail him in exchange for a cash amount of Rs 3,000.

Zaddy narrated how he refused to pay the amount and instead told the fraudster that he was a policeman capable of tracing her. “I became confident because I realised they will not be able to share the videos online as it will also raise suspicion on them,” he said.

As he began to ignore the calls and messages, he said that calls started coming from unknown persons claiming to be from the cyber police, offering to help him delete the photos and videos in exchange for a payment of money. He revealed that through a mobile application, he found the location of fraudsters. “When I told them about my findings, they seemed intimidated. They even stopped receiving my calls afterwards,” he said.

As a precautionary measure, Zaddy also deleted his social media handles to prevent the online predators from accessing further information about him and the people he connects with over social media. Zaddy does not wish to seek the assistance of the police as he is “not comfortable” revealing his identity. Raising an alarm about the trending cybercrime, he said that the mental harassment that victims undergo could be damaging. As for him, he said that he sought the immediate help of a church leader who guided him and comforted him to deal with the issue calmly.

Cybercrimes like these are common in Nagaland. However, the new digital trap in the form of ‘nude video calling’ is likely gaining attention in the state as cybercrimes and sextortion cases across the country see a spike over the years.

In the new sextortion trend, fraudsters begin with a demand for a small amount of money, and after initial transactions, the amount eventually increases. Regarding Nagaland cases, men, especially married men with wives and children have been major targets.

In a few cases, initial consensual sexting—an act of sending sexually explicit digital images, videos, text messages, or emails, usually by cell phone—also made way for online sextortion.

Sources familiar with cybercrime, on the condition of anonymity, said that most sextortion cases go unreported as victims do not want to reveal their identity. The crime is, however, punishable under Section 67(A) of the Information Technology (IT) Act.

For online relationship frauds and revenge porn, most victims are said to be women. In the case of revenge porn, most cases are reported among the teenage group. Sources said that e-commerce frauds in the state are gradually witnessing a decline in the state.  

Approaching the Police not a bad idea

The SP (crime), while urging the need for people to report cybercrime issues, assured that the Nagaland police is well-equipped to crack cybercrime cases. 

“We have made arrests from Delhi, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and from South India as well. The police can track if the victims report and cooperate with us in the investigation process,” Kumar said. 

He informed that under the direction of the Director-General of Police (DGP), district cyber cells have been activated to assist the police stations in cybercrime cases. “The victims need not come to Kohima to the Cybercrime police station to report cybercrime cases. They can visit the nearest police stations and report any cybercrime case,” he added.

Further, Kumar informed that the state police would activate a toll-free number to report cybercrime cases.

Cyber hygiene practices

Much like physical hygiene, there is no doubt that cyber hygiene practices have become an important aspect to ensure the safety of identity in today’s technology-driven world. 

Kumar said that the Nagaland police, from time to time, has issued advisories and info-graphics containing cyber hygiene practices and offences to sensitise the public. 

In July this year, the Nagaland police widely notified that any cybercrime report can be made at www.cybercrime.gov.in or cybercrimeps-ngl@gov.in or the nearest police station.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, school level awareness of cybercrime has been temporarily stopped as educational institutions remain closed.

However, for victims of cybercrime, the simple steps of activating privacy mode, blocking undesirable contents, deactivating/deleting social media accounts, ignoring unwanted calls and messages, and seeking help from the police, are advised. As digital evidence can be volatile, saving screenshots and URLs comes in handy for investigators.

Besides awareness campaigns, the IT curriculum taught in educational institutions should also be inclusive of imparting knowledge on online etiquette.

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