Sextortion or obscene video-calling scam has become a new malady for money-minting in Kashmir.
Aijaz Baba was sitting with his family one fall day this year when an unknown number rang his cellphone. It was a WhatsApp video call he often receives from his friends and acquaintances.
He unwittingly received it and saw darkness with occasional blinking of light in the background.
It seemed as if someone was calling him from a dark room. He thought it as an aberration and cut the call after nine seconds.
But five minutes later, a video message popped up on his phone screen. It came from the same number.
“When I opened it, I saw myself in that recorded call,” Aijaz recounts.
“Some obscene and nude shots were added to that morphed video.”
Even before he could make sense of the startling sleaze, the blackmailing started with a following audio call from the same number.
“The caller asked me to pay Rs. 1 lakh or the video would be made viral,” Aijaz, a government teacher, recalls.
Without getting unnerved about it, he threatened to file a case against the blackmailer at the cyber police station.
“But the extortionist sounded thick-skinned,” Aijaz says. “He told me, ‘do whatever you can’. He seemed quite assured about his security.”
The conman then forwarded some screenshots on Aijaz’s number. Those screen-grabs made him believe that the morphed video had been shared with his Facebook friends.
Alarmed by this, the teacher contacted his friends and breathed easy when they feigned ignorance about it.
By then, it became certain that the man behind the screen scandal had also edited those screenshots—just like he did the video.
Even though he put up a brave face, the whole incident pushed the family man into the state of depression.
“I don’t think any of us deserve this horrible situation,” he says. “I got depressed and upset. My ears turned red and my blood pressure increased rapidly.”
But what Aijaz freshly faced has already become a “cyber-curse” for many in the valley. People get these obscene video calls from some unknown numbers. Minutes after these dark calls, they receive the morphed videos. And with that, the blackmailing begins.
This mounting menace has unsettled life of many in the valley.
The cyber wing of Jammu and Kashmir police in response to growing concerns related to morphed obscene videos has issued an advisory and directed people not to engage in video calls with unknown users and not to get swayed by giving away demanded money.
“Accepting random friend requests, video call on Facebook or WhatsApp from strangers can land you in trouble,” cyber cops caution in the advisory. “Blackmailers have devised a modus operandi to befriend people online and later get their photos and videos through a video call and morph these on pornographic photos and videos.”
Those who understand the modus operandi of these sextortionists suggest that one should keep camera off and act cautiously in case of receiving video call from known Facebook friends.
“The account may be cloned by fraudsters,” they warn. “But if people mistakenly become the target of these fraudsters, they should immediately file case at cyber police station, without taking too much stress.”
But while some fall for this scam in a bid to conceal the online shaming, others decided to take it head-on — like Aijaz did.
Shortly after the sextortion started, the teacher discussed the matter with his father and immediately rushed to concerned police station. He recalls the officer-in-charge very cordial who among other things assured him that there’s nothing to worry.
Aijaz also registered a complaint on online portal of cyber police and received call from the cops currently investigating the matter.
But while he took a prompt action against it, Aijaz fears that this online scam may be a cause of suicides, especially, in the youngsters.
“Who knows some of them [young people who committed suicide] might’ve ended their lives due to shame and anxiety caused by these calls,” Aijaz says.
“Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. And as someone who wears one such shoe, I can tell you how hard it pinches. And the very pain it causes somehow convinces me that these calls might’ve forced some people to take the extreme step.”