Teenage girls are among a significant number of people in the eThekwini area who have fallen prey to extortion scams involving online adult activity.
Victims have been tricked into paying sums from R5000 to R35000, often in cryptocurrency, and most are too embarrassed to report them to police.
A private investigator warned victims not to pay because the blackmailers never let them off the hook.
Prem Balram of the Phoenix-based Reaction Unit South Africa (Rusa) security company, said two 17-year-olds had approached him, too embarrassed to tell their parents let alone lay charges with the police.
“There are lots of cases like this. Tons of them. People are being tricked into paying amounts between R5000 and R35000,” said Balram.
He said there had been cases of men preying on women and women preying on men.
Balram spoke of a 24-year-old man who approached his company after a woman extorted R35000 from him when he sent her nude pictures.
“The victim had accepted an invite on Facebook and after a brief chat, he exchanged his WhatsApp number with the female.
“During a conversation, he informed her of his residential area, family business and personal details.
“Within a few days they exchanged nude pictures and the woman began demanding money and threatening to expose the nude pictures on social media.”
The man apparently forked out R35000 in cash.
The suspect is an Indian female, believed to be a Tongaat resident, Balram added.
On men conning women, Balram spoke of two women who, in separate scams, received about 20 invitations and messages a day on Facebook Messenger after they had posted selfies on social media.
“The men, who were from South Africa and India, complimented the women on their appearances and convinced them to chat on WhatsApp and Messenger.
“After lengthy conversations they eventually exchanged pictures of their breasts and private parts.”
Blackmailing followed, first with requests for small amounts of money and then larger amounts.
“In their initial conversations, both women had given the men details of their work and residential addresses as well as the schools their children attended.
“Both paid large amounts of money and fear for their safety.
“One was unemployed and sold personal items and borrowed money to pay the extortionists,” Balram said.
Highway-based investigator Rick Crouch also reported receiving calls from “15 to 16 people in the Durban area” who had received threatening emails”.
“They say they will reveal your adult-website habits and send video of you to your contacts unless you send them Bitcoin, usually $1200 or $3800 worth.”
Crouch said he believed the people who were most worried would be those who thought something they had done could come to light.
He said his cases and those reported to Rusa appeared to be “different forms of the same scam”.
Crouch said his clients had also been reluctant to report the matter to police for fear of embarrassment.
Police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said no incidents appeared to have been reported.
However, she said: “People are urged to report similar incidents or any other criminal activities to the police.”
Crouch said email scams involved messages with subject lines which included a password that victims had probably used at some point, or their ID numbers.
“The sender says they have used that password to hack your computer, install malware and record video of you through your webcam.
“It seems that plenty of people have fallen for it.
“A Dutch security researcher examined a few dozen of the Bitcoin addresses given in the emails, and found that they had received in excess of $50000 (R700000) as of July 19, 2018.”
He added that the passwords referred to would be an old password that may have been used years ago.
“These passwords and user names most likely came from a data breach years ago and have been circulating on the internet for some time. They’re hoping you’re scared enough to believe their story and send them Bitcoin.
“The scammer is most likely using a script that draws from this database of passwords and automatically sends out the email in bulk.
“But as the scam develops, there’s a good chance it may include credentials from a fresh breach which would include updated information.”
Crouch cautioned people never to pay any scammer.
“Once you make that first payment, they will never go away. If you are still using the password being referenced in the email, change it immediately.”
*Original article appeared on Independent On Saturday