This article has been written by Manya Dudeja, a student of the University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University. This article deals with the increasing menace of webcam blackmailing and how someone stuck in such a situation should deal with it. This is a general guide and should not be considered as a substitute for legal advice.
The age of the internet while proving to be a blessing in many cases has also brought with it a plethora of new crimes and ills. They take exploitative forms and due to the lack of awareness around such issues, the victim is often left to fend for themselves without any guidance or recourse. This article will spread the much-required awareness and would be an attempt to address the growing issue of webcam blackmailing. It would try to answer the various questions a victim of webcam blackmailing might have and would leave the reader with a piece of advice so as to avoid being caught in such vicious situations in future.
Meeting people online and making friends has become easier these days, but also tricky. One can never know if the person behind the screen is who they portray themselves to be or if there is any malice behind those sweet conversations. While making friends on the internet can be a great way to socialise and expand your circle, one has to be careful to notice behaviour patterns to gauge the intentions of the other person.
What is webcam blackmailing?
Webcam blackmailing refers to a phenomenon whereby criminals use the internet to become friends with their target victim. For this, they use a fake identity. After instilling confidence in the target victim, the criminal goes on to persuade the victim to perform sexual acts in front of the webcam or device camera. The criminals in some cases also hack the victim’s account and computer to procure more explicit content. Both men and women can fall victim to this. People across all ranges can become targets. In cases where a target victim is a man, the criminal may use an attractive woman to allure him. The videos are then recorded and the criminal threatens the victim to share the images and videos with the victim’s friends and family or to upload them online. This is done, mostly in order to earn money from the victim and hence, the criminal tries to find someone they can earn a good amount from. In other cases, the victim is also blackmailed to get involved in sexual acts with the criminal. Webcam blackmailing is also known as sextortion.
Means through which webcam blackmailing is pursued
- Messaging Apps
- Dating Apps
- Social Media
- Adult websites
Initial steps that can be taken to deal with webcam blackmailing
The following are the initial few steps one should take if they have fallen victim to webcam blackmailing.
Calm yourself (the victim) and talk to someone
While the situation can be very anxiety-provoking and scary, the first thing the victim should do is to have affirmative self-talk. There will be people who would make the victim feel guilty and blame them for being led into such a situation, but understand that this is not the victim’s fault. Remember that this is organised crime and the victim is not alone. This would help the victim to accept the situation and draw the strength to deal with it. Now, to take any action, it is important to seek help from someone close to the victim, preferably parents in this situation. Talk to someone who can assist the victim with the future course of action.
Report the incident
The only way to catch the criminal and to stop the blackmailing is by taking help from the law enforcing agency i.e. the police. The criminal would not leave you alone even after fulfilling the conditions asked and hence it is important that the incident is reported so that people who have expertise in dealing with such criminals can help the victim. For this, one can simply reach out to their local police station or register a complaint online with the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal. In cases where the victim is a child, the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children can be reached out to.
Stop communicating with the criminal
After the crime is reported or once the victim has decided to report it, it is important that all communication with the criminal is cut. It is advisable to block the number or ID of the person. If the criminal receives constant replies, they might attempt to manipulate the victim further.
Do not pay the criminal
It has been observed that most criminals start by asking for an amount that is not too high. This is a strategy to get the victim to pay the money. Once the payment is made, the criminal demands more and more in order to delete the video or image. The victim has to understand that this person is not trustworthy and chances are that they would not delete the video or image after receiving the money. This will be a vicious cycle of continuous blackmailing. Hence, to avoid this situation, it is important that no payment is made. However, if the victim has already made the payment, check if it has been collected and also share the account and transaction details with the police.
Preserve all the evidence
A situation like this can make the victim feel embarrassed and in turn delete evidence to get over the incident. It is important to be patient and careful at this time. All and any evidence should be carefully preserved. All screenshots should be saved even if the criminal is blocked. Taking screenshots is also important to preserve evidence in case the criminal ends up deleting their account. Keep note of all the personal details the criminal might have shared, any IDs or numbers etc. No communication should be deleted.
Identifying the perpetrator
Most of the time webcam blackmailers follow a similar set pattern. This stranger will use social media and messaging applications to reach the victim. They will then persuade the victim to shift to a conversation platform like Skype or WhatsApp maybe, where a video call system is supported. Eventually, the conversation will move to sexually explicit themes, here the criminal might ask the victim for videos and images or ask for a sexual video call. The person to encourage you might also share fake and pre-recorded sexually explicit images or videos, claiming them to be theirs. They would then use the videos and images to blackmail the victim and ask for money. Unfortunately, one can never completely understand the person on the other side of the screen, but observation is key. Being an organised crime, the criminals usually follow such a pattern and a person who is well aware can identify it in time and prevent the incident.
Ways to safeguard yourself from webcam blackmailing in the future
In order to safeguard oneself from being a victim of such organised crime in future, one can keep in mind the following things:
- Take care of your online privacy and security. While social media has made us more accessible for people, it has also made us more vulnerable and approachable for criminals. It is important to review our profiles and edit any information that a criminal can use against us. Also, it is advisable to have a strong security mechanism activated for your account.
- It is advised to monitor people’s reach to you on social media by only allowing people you know to access your content. Accepting requests from total strangers should be avoided and direct messages if suspicious, should be blocked and reported to the social media application.
- Situations, where the other person demands you to remove your clothes in front of a webcam or persuades you to share sexually explicit images or videos, should be avoided.
- Also, lastly, one should always trust their gut feeling. If it does not feel right, it in most probability is not. If the conversation is making you feel uncomfortable or just not right in general, put an end to it and seek advice if required.
Statutory laws dealing with webcam blackmailing
Even though the cases of webcam blackmailing or sextortion are on the rise in India, it is unfortunate that there is no single legislation dedicated to it. However, there are certain laws that can safeguard the victim in such situations.
The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC)
According to Section 108(1)(i)(a) of the CrPC, the victim is empowered to contact the magistrate of the locality and bring to their knowledge the person whom the victim believes can circulate the obscene material. The magistrate wields the power to detain such accused and also stop them from circulating such material by signing a bond. Since no direct evidence is required to be produced here, this is a quick remedy.
Indian Penal Code (IPC)
Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code punishes anyone who either distributes or threatens to disperse images of another person that are intimate or compromising using electronic means like social media and other applications.
Under Section 354 of the IPC, a case of voyeurism can also be filed against anyone who clicks an image of a woman in an obscene manner without her knowledge.
Role of parents if their child is a victim of webcam blackmailing
The youth is extensively involved in the use of the internet and social media platforms, while active and healthy parenting can help avoid the child from getting stuck in such situations, in case such a situation arises, it is important to deal with it thoughtfully.
- It is vital that parents do not lose their temper and are supportive of the child. This will make it easy for the child to communicate with them. A lot of times, the reason the victim ends up paying huge amounts to the criminal is that they are scared of the repercussions and the reaction of their parents to the situation. The child should have a friendly relation with the parents and should be able to trust them.
- Viewing the explicit video or images and the comments on them should be avoided. This would make both the child and the parents uncomfortable and only make things difficult.
- The parents should support the child in reporting the crime and should not themselves give in to the demands. They should also not pay any ransom to the blackmailer. If the payment has already been made, they should contact the bank to get it cancelled if possible.
- In order to help the child get over the trauma related to the incident, a professional counsellor should be approached.
- Also, in order to avoid facing such situations in the future, the parent should make the child aware of the existence of such elements in society and the importance of maintaining online privacy.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on instances of webcam blackmailing
The Covid-19 pandemic forced people inside with minimal physical interaction. In order to deal with this isolation, people reached out to each other online, met people online and made friends too. While this might be helpful for some, there have been growing instances of people falling into the traps of webcam blackmailers. This happened because of the increased online activity as people spent time at home. Scamsters have seen this as an easy opportunity to manipulate and harass people online.
Victims of webcam blackmailing have often been mistreated by society which has in turn induced in them the fear of reaching out for help. This can have devastating consequences on the victim as well as the society where organised crime of this sort will be encouraged. It is important that spreading awareness be used as a tool to avoid such cases as well as fight the evil of victim-blaming. Also, adequate legal provisions should be put in place to aid victims of webcam blackmailing, these laws should be gender-neutral and victim-friendly.
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