Sunday, May 04, 2014

Dangerous pastime

“You do not die for being bad, you die/ For being available.”

The line is read by Detective Inspector John Rebus, the creation of Ian Rankin, Scottish writer of mystery novels I am currently reading, rather, grasping at in this arid summer of research and writing.

Rebus, a good cop who cannot abide by rules and authorities, is, in the 12th novel of the series, “The Falls,” about to be sidelined by age and obsolescence.

He is after all a cop for whom “email” is a misspelled word. And yet, even though his younger, e-savvy colleagues lead in investigating cybercrimes in Edinburgh, Rebus knows that evil in any form respects MO (modus operandi).

A victim, for instance, must first of all be available.

Growing up, I’ve always heard the imperative—“be home before dark”—as a truism that one’s family represents sanctuary, specially after nightfall when the unmasking and undoing of men and women begin.

Yet, in this age of “domestics” (Rebus’s copshop talk for domestic violence), one risks being abused, trafficked or killed by the very people one lives with.

Thanks to the encroachment of computers and the Internet on personal space, “homes” are now the best settings for crimes. Who is never at “home,” these websites we favor as our hangouts and sanctuaries?

From Apr. 30 to May 1, teams composed of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) arrested 58 Filipinos suspected of involvement in an online scam for “sextortion,” reported Rappler.

The operations, which included police officials from Scotland and Hong Kong, rounded up the suspects in Taguig City, Laguna and the Bicol region.

The cybercrime syndicate is connected to the death of a teenager in Scotland. Last July 15, Daniel Perry, 17, of Dunfermline, Scotland, jumped to his death from the Forth Road Bridge.

The BBC News reported that the police in Fife were investigating claims that Perry was egged on to kill himself after he was unable to pay money to a social media website that was blackmailing to expose his involvement in explicit webcam recordings.

The PNP and the Interpol explained the MO of the busted sextortion ring: suspects created fake social website accounts, pretending to be attractive females to engage foreign males in chatting and later, cybersex. The webcam chats were recorded. The victims were then threatened that the videos would be uploaded unless they paid from US$500 to $2,000.

The video would be deleted after money was sent to the Philippines by Western Union. Authorities said the syndicate operated the online scam for four years.

Perry, an apprentice mechanic, pleaded at first and then said he would kill himself if his video went online. The blackmailers emailed back, “Kill yourself mate,” reported Rappler. Less than an hour after, Perry took his life.

The callousness is a far cry from the friendship initiated by Perry’s online “pal”. He thought he was corresponding with a girl of his age. Security experts interviewed by BBC News said that after romance blooms, the online friend coaxes the victim to take his clothes off.

Like Rebus, I would not wholly trust a person met online. Yet, this wariness is absent in many young people who view the virtual world as their playing field.

Some take risks not from naivete but defiance and a desire for provocation. On Facebook, a school “barkada” once reenacted a slasher scene. These students were well-behaved and diligent in class. Watching the gore drip from their “violated” and “massacred” bodies, I wondered how the images would be perceived by strangers, specially by predators.

In the 14th novel, “A Question of Blood,” Rebus comes upon the vlog of a Goth teen who invites the world wide web to watch her in her bedroom through a live feed from a webcam attached to her computer.

“WELCOME TO MY DARKNES!” is the name of the vlog promoted by “Myss Teri—visit my 100% non-pornographic (sorry, guys!) home page!”.

Thinking how the site will draw the hunters out there, Rebus comments: “A dangerous pastime.”

Retorts his younger partner: “Maybe that’s why she likes it.”

( 01973226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 4, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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