The PNP ACG headed by its Director, PSSUPT GILBERT CAASI SOSA launched anti-cybercrime operation, arresting58 suspects of sextortion activity and confiscated 268 pieces of electronic evidence simultaneously in Bicol Region, Laguna/Taguig City and Bulacan.

As the lead unit in coordination with International and Local partners, PNP ACG launched Operation “Strikeback”.  The full forceof PNP ACG joined byrepresentatives from PAOCC, Department of Justice, Police Scotland, Interpol, Hong Kong Police, Singapore Police,US Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), Child Exploitation Online Protection (CEOP) and Australian Federal Police were dispatched to Bicol Region, Bulacan and Laguna/Taguig City in the eve of April 29, 2014 following the PNPCaseOperational Plan (COPlan) “STRIKEBACK”,a campaign against the prevalence of sex extortion activities in the Philippines.  Three task groups were organized to cover three places led by PSSUPT ELMO FRANCIS SARONA for Bicol Region, PSSUPT BERNARD YANG for Laguna/Taguig City and PSSUPT ARNOLD GUNNACAO for Bulacan.

The three groups were augmented by uniformed personnel from Police Regional Police 5, Regional Public Safety Battalion 3, and San Jose Del Monte Bulacan Police Station.  A Tactical Operations Center (TOC) was also established in the main office of PNP ACG to receive reports from the ground during the implementation of search warrants and serve as the focal coordinating office for all 15 teams that were strategically deployed with PSSUPT SOSA as the overall officer-in-charge.

The operation stemmed from the 1st Interpol Eurasian Working Group Meeting in Singapore in November 2013 that highlights the growing number of sextortionvictims in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, United Kingdom and the United States with potential victims in Australia, Korea and Malaysia.  The meeting resulted in the formulation of a joint investigation model to combat the increasing sextortion cases worldwide.  This was followed by intelligence sharing between cybercrime departments of Hong Kong, Singapore, Scotland UK, Australia, Philippines and others through Interpol that linked victims and cybercrime cases among these countries.  Hence, a 2nd Operational Meeting in Singapore was held on March 2014 by the Interpol Digital Crime Centre, also participated by payment systems and judicial representatives.

There are four target establishments in Bicol region particularly in Naga City, Libmanan and Nabua in Camarines Sur, and in Legazpi City.  The Money Maker Portal Solutions, Money Magnet Portal Web Solutions, Money Builder Marketing Web Solutions, and Mocha Bytes Web Solutions, located in the places mentioned earlier, are linked together as validated during actual surveillance.

On the other hand, Laguna and Taguig Group successfully arrested Vincent Regori Bravo, Jomar Palacio alias Park Jiman and GianTolin,these suspects are responsible for financial sextortionof victims mostly from UK.

Bravo was arrested in Binan, Laguna at around 1:30 am whileTolin was arrested at around 5:00 am of April 30, 2014 with Palacio who was then sleeping in his place atBrgy. Hagonoy, Taguig City.

Bulacan Group arrested employees of Alfredo GacasaJr of Brgy. Muzon, San Jose Del Monte Bulacan4:00 am of May 1, 2014 namely Aldrin E Villamonte, Jemuel C Matuguina and Emuross O Dela Cruz.

Seized from the joint operation were assorted mobile phones, identification cards, assorted documents, laptops, network and storage devices, assorted SIM cards, assorted credit and ATM cards, pornographic materials, cameras, CCTV equipment, live ammunition, tablets, telephone sets, desktop computers, assorted cards believed to be used in their illegal activities.

These pieces of digital evidence will be analyzed by the forensic team of PNP ACG with the help of experts from involved countries to identify any additional victims and for follow-up investigations.

Sextortion is defined as sexual blackmail to a person to whom sexual information or images are extracted through social media, mobile phones or other online services.  These images or information are then used to extort sexual favors or money from the victim with the threat of sharing these to others if not favored.

Operating in this kind of online scheme or “sex extortion” by agents as they call themselves, is making money ranging from 22,000 to 90,000 pesos per successful client.  They also get bonus incentives during holidays, cash or mobile phones for reaching financial targets.

Suspects arrested in Laguna and Taguig City were charged for Violation of Access Devices Regulation Act (RA 8484) and Anti-Child Pornography Act (RA 9775).  Suspects in Bulacan were charged for Violation of RA 8484 and Robbery/Extortion. For those arrested in Bicol, charges are being readied for Violation of RA 8484 and Violation of Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (RA 10175), particularly for cybersex.

Operation “Strikeback”provided the opportunity for information-sharing and continuous collaboration, cooperation and coordination among our international and local partners in cracking down cybercrimes.