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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Facebook friend request warning as dozens of young Dubai residents blackmailed 

Private or sexual images and videos stolen then used against victims

The Facebook application is seen on a phone screen. Thomas White / Reuters
The Facebook application is seen on a phone screen. Thomas White / Reuters

Accepting a friend request from a stranger could be the start of a terrifying blackmail ordeal, Dubai Police officers said as they revealed more than 80 cases have been investigated this year.

The theft of private or sexual images and videos stored on devices or social media accounts was the common thread in many blackmail cases.

Dubai Police registered 83 offences of "electronic extortion" between January and October, up from 87 for the whole of 2016 and 80 in 2015. Sixty-six were reported in 2014.

Most victims were aged between 26 and 36 although some were teenagers.

Police said on Wednesday that it launched a campaign aimed at residents and school pupils in particular, urging them to be wary of simple acts such as accepting friend requests.

Even in a time of complex cybercrime attacks on corporations and governments across the the globe, the average smartphone and internet user can help to keep themselves safe by following basic advice.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) will also run lectures and create short videos reminding people to think twice.

“Some teenagers have experienced cyber extortion cases and the common beginnings of this are accepting friend requests from strangers,” said Lt Col Mohammed Aqeel, deputy director of CID.

“More than 10,000 websites were closed in 2017 for cyber extortion and other cyber crimes. Around the same number of websites and accounts were shut down in 2016.

“There are different types of cyber blackmail, depending on the blackmailer’s purpose. If the person is trying to make more money, they usually target males. While someone else may blackmail others to force them to commit or not commit an act, such as giving out a testimony."

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Major Saud Mohammed Al Khalidi, from the force's Cybercrime Division, also said "some victims are being blackmailed after releasing photographs or videos of a sexual nature".

A doctor teaching in a university in the UAE recounted her story of having her Facebook picture stolen and used for an illegal business.

Dr Amal Bader, from Egypt, told journalists that her picture had been stolen - and used as the face of a "black magic" business.

“A woman used my picture on her Facebook account promoting black magic. My students told me about the account. The person who created the Facebook account included an Iraqi phone number. I contacted the woman via WhatsApp.”

Dr Bader said that when she contacted police, they told her they will try to close the account.

“I convinced her to remove the picture, but she replaced mine with a picture of one of my friends. My friend’s picture is still on the Facebook account promoting black magic."

According to UAE law No 16, any person who uses the internet to blackmail another can be jailed for up to 10 years.

Police urged any victim of blackmail or cybercrime to contact police and never to pay any money to blackmailers.