Cyber blackmail breaks women’s hearts in Cameroon

DOUALA, Cameroon (AA): The fostering of online relationships by predators to obtain compromising images for blackmail, an act of cybercrime, has plunged many women in the Central African nation of Cameroon into despair.

“Most victims of cyber blackmail are women,” a professional hacker who goes by the name Ismalito told Anadolu Agency.

“Men make them think they live in Europe and are big personalities. They also pretend to travel all over the world looking for a woman to marry. They know that African women can be very swayed by Westerners and luxury.”

Three victims deceived via social media who wished to remain anonymous were interviewed by Anadolu Agency.

Marie, 47, had difficulty recounting the relationship she had with her torturer.

For several weeks, she was involved in a long-distance romance with a man she thought she knew on Facebook. He was a white man, according to his profile. She trusted him. Later, an unknown user sent her naked pictures, blackmailing her. She suspected her internet lover.

“He sent me naked pictures of myself and asked me to send him money as soon as possible if I don’t want to be exposed to the world. I don’t know how he got my photos. It looks like he hacked my Facebook account,” she said.

She thinks her blackmailer hacked her phone through their conversations because she doesn’t remember sending him any naked photos.

It was a scenario similar to that experienced by 30-year-old Vanessa and 49-year-old Chantal.

“His profile had a lot of pictures of him. I couldn’t imagine he was a fake. He also called me on the phone. Shortly before we were supposed to meet, an unknown number sent me pictures that I had only sent to that person. He demanded money and threatened me for weeks,” said Vanessa.

Chantal also did not know who to turn to for help when her correspondent asked her for $340.

With her daughter’s support, Marie avoided the worst. She advised her not to answer any more messages from her correspondent and not to send him money. He stopped bothering her after a few days.

“He may have realized that I had no money and went to bother another woman,” she said, sounding relieved.

Vanessa initially gave in to the blackmail by sending the criminal $85 twice. When she ran out of money to send him, he finally left her.

Chantal took drastic measures by unsubscribing from social networks, cutting off the internet on her phone and changing her number.

“I don’t know if he published my photos afterwards, but I haven’t heard from him and he hasn’t heard from me,” she said.

Avoiding pitfalls

Thoroughly shaken, the women eventually succeeded in eluding their blackmailers.

“I was very afraid that my relatives would find out. I was thinking all the time. I lost sleep and I was very sorry that I had accepted a relationship with a stranger on the internet,” said Marie.

She now uses only one application to communicate with loved ones and has disconnected from other social networks.

According to Ismalito, criminals may use two methods with women. The love relationship method is for him the easiest attack. It is used by the laziest unprofessional hackers.

“But there is another method that is still very high up, which is to create a phishing page. It allows you to grab a person’s Facebook or WhatsApp login credentials to access personal information and blackmail them,” he said.

He cited two software programs — Droidjack and Spynote — that criminals use to control victims’ devices.

In light of such dangers, he believes it is very difficult to escape online criminals. Nevertheless, he advocates above all “distrust” and some practical techniques.

“Refuse invitations from strangers on social networks. Do not open weird links or open them in browsers outside of personal devices. Never post anything on the internet. Do not keep intimate images in electronic devices. Powerful hackers have several techniques that are difficult to avoid,” he said.

Cybercrime in Cameroon is wreaking havoc as it does all over the world. The methods are multiple.

Unsuspecting people are fooled. while specialists and other actors in the digital world very often organize awareness campaigns on the benefits and risks of the web. The country also has a legal arsenal and institutions that ensure cybercriminal practices are repelled.

According to Cameroon’s National Agency for Information and Communication Technologies, even high-ranking officials are among the victims.

It reported that between 2015 and 2017, 182 government officials fell victim to such ploys, with authorities uncovering more than 200 fake Facebook profiles used for cyber blackmail out of 12,800 cyber-attacks reported in 2017.