Muscat: Global online blackmailers are actively targeting social media users and Oman is no exception, according to officials.
A special unit has been created by Royal Oman Police (ROP) who have drafted in IT specialists to help track down those extorting money from unsuspecting social media users.
In most cases, those snared by criminals online have revealed personal information about themselves or sent private images. Online criminals then use that data to blackmail people into sending them money, hoping that the embarrassment aspect of the private information shared will persuade those targeted to part with large sums of money.
A spokesman for the Royal Oman Police said people should never pay. “Come to us”, he added.
"If you fall in such a trap, before you pay up or do anything else, approach the ROP".
"If the situation involves threats from the blackmailer, then the police will surely help you".
Peter (name changed) from Oman, who used an online dating app to find friends online, was shocked to be at the receiving end of a threatening message after he chatted innocently with someone purporting to be a female.
The criminal, claiming to be a girl from Al Ghubra, told him a video chat they had would be circulated among his friends and the blackmailer also sent a list with Peter’s friend’s names in it.
He was asking for OMR1,000 to delete the video. Peter, who was both angry and frightened at this point, told the blackmailer he had informed the police who had traced the blackmailer’s location, after which he received an apology and a message stating that the video had been deleted.
The Royal Oman Police has had to deal with many similar cases in the past. However, cases of social media abuse have gone down drastically since 2014 and, according to the police, it is mainly due to increased awareness and caution among the public while using social media sites.
“The ROP conducts regular awareness programs and updates their official social media handles with cyber crime alerts. Also, people have started becoming more careful and aware while using apps,” the spokesman said.
He added that if anybody faces such an issue they must immediately report it to the police and not fall prey to such frauds.
“Social media scams are usually of two types: sexual scams and monetary scams. There is a special team of the ROP that deals with cyber crimes who work in conjunction with IT experts to solve cases. Once caught, the criminals are either given a jail term and/or charged a heavy fine, depending on the crime”.
IT expert Tariq Al Barwani has had six cases of social media abuse in the last two years where victims have gone to him - desperate for help. “All were men. The offender would pretend to be a girl and would ask the victim to pay huge amounts of money.”
The key to protecting yourself from such scamsters, according to Tariq, is to not entertain them. “You should never entertain such people. The biggest mistake would be to give in. You should never end up giving the blackmailer the amount he is asking for as it would end up encouraging him to continue committing the offence”.
There are thousands of people out there who are willing to pay money and thousands of others who are waiting to take advantage of it. Make sure you are not one of them. This is how you can do that:
1. Firstly, do not do anything that you wouldn’t want other people to see.
2. Do not share personal information, videos or images via social media apps to strangers you’ve met online. You can never be sure about the credibility of their identity.
3. If you do fall in trouble, make sure you do not entertain the blackmailer. In most cases when they realise that you are not responding to them, they tend to give up.
4. Never pay up. Don’t try to argue or negotiate with the blackmailers. Ignore them completely.
5. Go to the ROP and report the case. They have a special division that works in league with IT experts to solve the case and penalize the criminal.