Men in Costa Rica are being targeted online by blackmailers, typically through Facebook. The OIJ says they had 80 complaints last year, with the trend continuing in January of this year. Photo:  Alamy

Q COSTA RICA – Meeting new people online can be costly. At least 80 men in Costa Rica, mostly professionals and married, were victims in 2016 of an international extortion ring asking them for money in exchange for not divulging their compromising video.

So said on Tuesday Erick Lewis Hernandez, head of the Computer Crimes Section (Delitos Informáticos) of the del Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ), in an alert to prevent more cases and more people becoming victims.

Lewis explained that it all starts out innocently, the victims falling in the hands of an organization operating out of the Ivory Coast, that contacts people around the world by way of Facebook.

In all cases, explained Lewis, the victim received an invitation of friendship by an attractive woman, who does not reside in Costa Rica, but could be France, Spain or the United States.

The blackmail ring uses newly created profiles of attractive women, usually created within days of contact with the victim. The profile includes several sexy pictures of the woman, typically in a bikini and usually saying they are a university student.

The game begins
The man, excited of being contacted by an attractive woman interested in a relationship with him, takes the bait. Almost immediately, the woman engages the man in a conversation on Messenger or Skype, with the conversation quickly turning to sex.

In days, usually a maximum of three, the woman convinces the man to exchange intimate situations, either by recording a video or with a live broadcast (via Skype).

Lewis commented that, after obtaining the recording comes the demand for payment, a deposit of between US$100 and US$5,000 dollars in order for the video not to be sent to the wife, family or even the employer (because in some cases the man recorded the video with his work place ID or shirt logo).

The blackmailers request the money be sent through a remittance company (ie Western Union, Moneygram) to an account in the Ivory Coast.

According to the OIJ data, the victims so far, at least the ones that filed a complaint, have been Costa Rican men, usually professionals and adults, 60% of which are married and the rest single. Among the victims are officials of state entities and private companies. “Some have paid, but, others have not,” said  Lewis.

But the blackmail doesn’t stop with the first payment, Lewis said the organization will continue to ask for more. The OIJ official said they know of at least two cases, one in 2015 and in 2016, where the blackmailers posted the video on YouTube.

The OIJ says that complaints about this type of scam started in 2015, when they received 21 complaints. Last year there 80 complaints filed. And this year, in the first month, several cases have been filed, but the exact number was not made public.

No links to Costa Rica
The OIJ says they have not been able to link anyone in Costa Rica with the extortionist organization. But, Lewis added that last year the OIJ received 10 complaints of local cases where the release of videos and photos was threatened.

In those cases, it was mainly of women taking sex photos and videos to send to their respective boyfriends or husbands, but somehow fell in the hands of third parties, that then made demands.

“What they asked for was more photos or videos. They also agreed to have sex. The complication of this type of scam is that the blackmailer can return the photos and videos, but a copy may have been kept,” Lewis explained.