Ibrahim Al Ajill, director of CID at the Sharjah Police, said "the victim handed over the amount to someone he met on social media after being promised that it would be doubled to Dh4 million".
"He didn't call the police because he felt ashamed," Al Ajill said.
Anybody can become a victim of cybercrime, the police stressed. There were young university students who had been tricked into sending inappropriate photos, only to be subjected to extortion later. Seniors were also being blackmailed. And, surprisingly, even the educated fall into the trap, another officer said.
Abdul Aziz Al Jarwan, head of the organised crime department, pointed out that social media is the main tool used by fraudsters. "A criminal would initially show interest in getting to know a target victim. Image requests and video conversations would follow this. Then, once scammers get the opportunity, they could start blackmailing their victims, telling them they would upload and circulate private photos and videos if they don't give in to their demands," Al Jarwan said.
The Sharjah Police noted that even mobile phone shops can be a 'gold mine' for blackmailers. Unsuspecting customers, who just want to either sell old units or have their phones fixed, suddenly become victims.
In one case in the Capital, a woman left her phone at a repair shop. Five years later, a mobile vendor started threatening her, saying that he would circulate her personal videos and images if she didn't give what he wanted.
A woman in Sharjah, in another case, sold her phone without doing a factory reset.
The mobile salesman then reportedly demanded that he be given Dh10,000, or else he would share her personal images.
Lawyer Salim Al Suwaidi shared that some criminals would hack into the accounts of women on the Internet; grab their photos; and alter the images for a blackmail attempt.
"Often, victims panic and they just give in to the extortionists' demand. They would rather pay money to avoid scandals and protect their reputation, social status or jobs," Al Suwaidi said.
Report to authorities
Al Ajill said any blackmailing case - no matter how it happened or what the blackmailers are saying - must be reported to the authorities. In fact, failure to notify the police can also be an offence.
Al Suwaidi said: "The UAE Penal Code stipulates that people who fail to report those crimes shall be penalised with fines. The victim should report such violations to protect the community by taking the blackmailers off the streets."
The Penal Code and the Cybercrime Law in the UAE imposes hefty penalties on cybercriminals, including jail time, a fine of up to Dh1 million, and deportation, he added.
To report an incident, the public can call the Sharjah Police's dedicated number and e-mail for cybercrimes: 065943228 or at tech_crimes @shjpolice.gov.ae.
The Sharjah Police assure everyone that all blackmailing cases are handled with confidentiality. Col Al Ajill said that when the police handle such cases, some are resolved on the same day.
"But for the victims who refuse to report to the police, the threats and blackmailing tend to continue for months, thus exacerbating the crisis. The best and safest option is to inform the police," he said.
Brigadier Arif Ben Hadeb, director of media and public relations department, said that over the last two years, the number of cybercrime cases has skyrocketed, prompting the police to launch a nationwide awareness drive, as directed by the Ministry of Interior.
Recently, the Sharjah Police launched a month-long awareness campaign titled 'Beware of the Risks of Cyber Blackmailing', aiming to inform residents, particularly university students, of the Internet safety precautions they must take to avoid cybercrime traps.
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