Beware of strangers online

Muscat, Aug 13 – Oman has been witnessing an alarming rise in the number of blackmail cases online, with 362 people having ‘fallen victim’ this year (up to April). A total of 1,479 cases of blackmail were reported last year. Hassan al Ajmi, a specialist in cyber security, fears the number is expected to be no less this year. For instance, 15 cases were reported on a single day last week. “Most of the victims were cheated on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Instagram and IMO,” he said. “Most of the victims are educated and have a good knowledge of technology,” he has tweeted.

He said a large amount of money derived through such transactions are transferred on a daily/weekly basis to a foreign country. Al Ajmi, who has launched a campaign to enlighten people about blackmailing, warned against trusting strangers on social networking platforms. “Beware of accounts with female names and images, beware of private conversations with unknown people and beware of accounts with celebrity names because a majority of these are fake.” He asked people not to share personal information and to decline invitations for video conversations with those identity is not known. The Information Technology Authority (ITA) had earlier launched a campaign to educate students, parents and teens about e-blackmailing and build a bridge of confidence and trust with the victims to ensure confidentiality of reports.

According to Oman National CERT, affiliated to ITA, a ten-day campaign launched by the ITA in 2016 saw a 28 per cent rise in the number of girls reporting online extortion. During the campaign, the centre received 2,800 calls and 420 e-mails related to extortion. Oman Penal Code criminalises blackmailing. Article 18 of Anti-IT Crimes Law says a person who commits e-extortion will be jailed for not less than one month and not more than three years and fined not less than RO 1,000 and not more than RO 3,000, or either of these penalties. Complaints related to extortion or cybersecurity can be reported to the centre at cert999@ita.gov.om or on 24166828 during work hours.

Zainab al Nassri