Update: we have shared these details with bangalore police already and waiting for them to get back. We will also file a complaint in writing after consulting cyber law experts.
Do you use online dating sites like Tinder, Woo, OKcupid, Coffee and Bagel, Hinge etc? Have you ever considered that you can be a victim of blackmail on these websites?
This story starts several years back. It was an evening in Delhi, I was talking to one of my good friends. While exchanging funny Tinder stories, I told him about the panicky calls we get on our helpline. He was shocked to hear about this. Then something interesting happened. He agreed to volunteer for an experiment.
If you are regular on online dating websites, you must have come across some profiles of women that seem strange. These women offer their phone numbers right on their profile. Why would someone do that?
They are actually baiting you.
They want you to fall in their trap, and they are making it easy.
What happens when you actually contact them? Here are a few variations I have seen:
They will invite you for a sex chat. Then they will make a video of you. Then they will threaten to send it to your facebook contacts.
Else they will meet you. Call you to a hotel or a house. Then they will threaten to frame you into a fake rape case or molestation case. Or maybe a marijuana case! There may even be policemen, real or fake, difficult to say, involved in such a racket at times.
Many a times young boys are asked to share nudes, or come online and do certain acts. What happens as a result is age old black mail.
My friend Saransh offered to volunteer. A few months back as we were discussing something and I reminded Saransh about his promise. I have started a cyber crime defence alliance, and the knowledge will be very useful.
I didn’t think he will get back to me. But today he did, and with some amazing material!
Let’s deep dive into his story!
I was checking out profiles on Hinge when I saw it. I knew something is strange about the profile. It had a phone number on it, so I directly contacted it.
Then here is the conversation that happened.
Note that I was quite sure that this is not the real person whose picture is being shared.
Still, I continued talking. Lets see where this goes.
She gives me her phone number, asks me to paytm the money.
Isn’t this too quick? Well. Let’s see.
I try to elongate the conversation. However, she is fixated on the payment.
The person even asks me for a picture. I get a little worried, but got to go through this, I was intrigued.
I offer to do a video chat on whatsapp after some thinking knowing that whatsapp is encrypted and it will be hard to record it with an app.
She says apparently she just wants to find out if I a broker. As if. If I am a broker I can send the picture of any random dude. But I do not want to share a random person’s picture. That will be totally unethical.
As I don’t respond for a minute, she begins to intimidate me.
Just see the change in attitude.
I guess she looks up my number on trucaller. Finds out some details and tell me where I work. It’s no magic. I know very well that my trucaller shows my work email. She can also google my name and find out where I work from linkedin.
I act surprised. I send 200 rupees to the paytm she mentioned. Lets see what happens.
This is where the game should begin if she is not a girl, because she can’t do a video chat with me if she is actually a dude!
Lo and behold.
The person, who I am now sure is a dude, starts talking strange. The scammer starts claiming that he doesn’t want the money. This is how he begins to take moral high ground. He actually returns my 200. Obviously, he wants to earn a lot more. So he lets the small money go.
Right after this I get this message on my SMS!
Now I really got scared! I begin to get a call. I am little out of depth here.
Honestly speaking, I was beginning to be very worried. I totally experienced the threat. If I was feeling this, then imagine what a victim may feel. What am I getting myself into? What if he sends this to people who love me and care for me? As the person begins to call me repeatedly, I call Ramanuj. What should I do next? He tells me to play along a little while more.
He also warns me repeatedly to act dumb, guilty and very scared.
He also asks me to start recording the calls.
Now things get really interesting. I get another message from another number.
And then we talk and things escalate. Ramanuj told me to act scared and confused, so I do that.
The scamster starts off by introducing himself as this person from this social organization in Bangalore which has partnered with the government to do such sting operations.
Our first call is all about morality. He tells me how poor women are framed because of animals like me. Apparently he will report me to CBI in 10 minutes. He demands to confirm that I have received my money back on my Paytm. Apparently that conclusively proves that I am engaging in cyber prostitution.
I am laughing my guts out because Ramanuj already told me for prostitution case to exist there must be a woman involved. This is a guy blackmailing me, and telling me how he is from an NGO trying to expose people who are paying online for cyber sex.
I get on a call with Ramanuj to plan the next step. Ramanuj is not at all perturbed by the claim and moral lecture of the person. I was considering that this may be actually from a genuine NGO. Am I getting myself into trouble? I was quite nervous at this point. I don’t want to get screwed trying to volunteer into an experiment for Ramanuj. After all, the person is claiming he just unmasked a minister in the same way. Also he is claiming that he is from Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, which when i google turn out to be a real organization.
Ramanuj laughs. He says to not worry at all, as the person is just trying to scare the hell out of me at the moment. Apparently this is all a part of an well thought out scheme. The person will soon ask for money, so I should act very worried and scared till then. I should in fact beg to let myself go, so that the person quickly moves on to the next stage instead of focussing on scaring me.
At this stage it’s all about fear and making the victim feel bad.
The chap finally comes to the point as I repeatedly ask what do you want from me. He tries to figure out how much I can give.
As I say nothing, and keep asking him for a figure, he finally gives me one. Rupees 67,000, and he will never call me again, I will never hear from him, and I can peacefully live my life.
He even gives me a phone number to transfer money through Google Tez.
I call Ramanuj again, armed with this information. Ramanuj tells me to ask for an account number. Surprisingly, the person is very confident now. He even gives me the account id.
Ramanuj tells me to send Rupees 100 to the account to find out if it is real. Is he even giving us his real account or just testing us? I add him as beneficiary. It works. Yes, it is real account.
Here is the screenshot.
Our experiment is complete Ramanuj says. So I spare my rupees 100. We just got to hand this over to police now for investigation. We will also publish this case study to make people aware of what exactly is going on. Will Tinder or Hinge take responsibility?
You might very well know about the boy who got kidnapped and killed by his tinder date. The dating apps are extremely unsafe.
I was very surprised that a thing like this could be so well thought through. I could only imagine the state of a person who has no idea of what is happening to him and no one to talk to.
I am very grateful to Ramanuj for actually taking up such an issue which will surely impact a lot of vulnerable people.
Over to Ramanuj.
I am sure you are really shocked and scared after reading this story unless it already happened to you.
How do you deal with these situations?
First of all, do not be scared. Using a dating app is not a crime, not is sex chat. Of course, the threat that a person may leak your personal photos or nudes or videos on the internet or send them to your colleagues or to your family is extremely scary.
The simple solution to this is that do not share such videos and photos with anyone. Read about revenge porn here. And here is guide to how to handle sexual blackmail over nude pictures.
Please, please, please report these incidents to police. If you have the means, get help from a trustworthy lawyer who can help you to file the right complaint and guide through the process.
How do you handle someone who is trying to extort money from you
They are soon going to ask for money. Or they will ask you to do something you do not want to do.
Number one rule is that do not start doing what they want you to do. It will not help. It will only put you into a bigger trouble.
Stop. Talk to your family. Talk to your trusted friends and ask for advice. Call a helpline. Call a lawyer. Never handle a blackmailing case alone. This will help you to create evidence and your people will stop you from making big mistakes.
Then do this step by step:
- Get some identifiable details. Phone number is good to start from. But usually getting a fake phone number is easy by using someone elses id. The best thing to get is an account number. PayTM may be harder to track as there are many paytm accounts which have no KYC. Google Tez can be tracked, but account number is best.
- Act dumb, scared, and confused so they trust you. The scamsters are scared that they may be exposed all the time. If they feel you are smart, brave, not getting scared, they will leave you alone, but may share your post your personal details online and open you up to harassment. The first step should be to file a police complaint before you confront so that they don’t try any tricks.
- Write a police complaint with all evidence and get it checked by a lawyer. Then give it to police.
- Then share the picture of police complaint on your Facebook. This will insulate you from any social stigma as people come to know your side of story. Now even they will be very afraid to share your pictures or video, because it is already under police investigation. They will get themselves in more trouble and more serious offence if videos are leaked. So they will probably destroy all videos and pictured to destroy evidence. If other people have access to the same, even they will be scared to circulate them because the matter is under police investigation and they would not want to get in troubles.
- Police complaint usually nukes the situation in your favour. But you need to tell your parents and friends. You can’t hide the situation from them.
- For women who find themselves blackmailed, I advice that you can tell your parents that the video is doctored. Why? Because we may have even seen alleged sex tapes of Aishwarya Rai of Priyanka Chopra which are obviously morphed. Why should you admit that your nudes are real and not morphed? The punishment is anyway the same for the person who will then get arrested.
Things to keep in mind while filing police complaint
- Take two copies of complaint. One is to be made a “received” copy and returned to you by police. This copy is your proof of complaint and must remain with you.
- If police refuses to lodge your complaint, do not argue with them. Come back, we will then send it by registered post, acknowledgement due to SP/commissioner of the district. We will also send the same by email. Then you can go and meet that senior official and request to register FIR. At this stage, almost all such complaints will get registered.
- If they still don’t, you need to definitely talk to a lawyer. We have to go to the magistrate and get a direction to register FIR. This is rarely required, in maybe less than 5% of cases especially when such obvious cases of crime are involved.
- Remember to give all the evidence you have, such as screenshots, copy of audio recording (in a pen drive) or soundcloud link etc to the police along with your complaint.
- Never argue with police. If they are uncooperative, come home and consult your family, friends and a lawyer. You can even post on social media. Contrary to what you may think, most people on social media will support you and help you out.
- Remember, you are not the criminal. Online dating or sex is not the crime. Blackmail, extortion, sharing private images over internet and even threatening to do so is. We are on your side, and we will pin down the criminal.
Some things to keep in mind while facing online bullies –
- They will try to be your friend. They will try to even appeal to you emotionally. They will try to be nice to you and then suddenly rough.
- They might act as an activist initially or someone who is doing this to protect the girls in their community.
- Your biggest weakness is your fear. Don’t be scared.
Always Remember – In this ever consuming online world, try to step out and form genuine relationships instead 🙂 You will be surprised what the world has to offer.
Here are the calls Saransh had with the scamster/cyber criminal. Listen to them, understand how to bait the criminals and then expose them.
Call 1 – https://vocaroo.com/i/s0kQhSPjOep6
Call 2 – https://vocaroo.com/i/s17FM2PtAZUn
Call 3 – https://vocaroo.com/i/s0MVSeqhmGHG (Contains sensitive bank information)
Call 4 – https://vocaroo.com/i/s0dX1J6gECbV (Contains sensitive bank information)
Let’s take the fight to cyber criminals. Let’s trap them. Why should they have all the fun?
If you want to volunteer for this activity to exposing cyber criminals, reach out to [email protected] for guidance.