Indonesian inmates allegedly blackmail women in 'sextortion'

BANDUNG/JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Inmates in a Bandung penitentiary have been extorting women through an online romance scam since 2016.

Sending nudes to strangers on the internet might sound like a bold thing to do even in the age of the internet.

But dozens of women did just that, not realizing that they had fallen victim to three inmates in Bandung, West Java, who wooed them behind bars into fake romances that led to “sextortion”.

The suspects, identified only as ID, 25, JN, 30, and FA, 29, are inmates at Jelekong prison in Bandung who had allegedly been luring clueless women into an online romance scam since 2016.

Pretending to be students from a sailing academy, they allegedly randomly scouted these women on several popular social media and networking apps, such as Facebook, MeetMe, WhatsApp and Instagram.

They first chatted with these women and after they got closer, they acted romantically toward the victims, said Bandung Police chief Sr. Comr. Hendro Pandowo.

“They even promised them they would become their boyfriends or marry them,” Hendro told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

The women started to fall into the alleged trap when they agreed to send the inmates their nude pictures or undress themselves during video calls.

To avoid suspicion, the three convicts allegedly sent these women videos of masturbating men they stole from the internet, including from Grindr, a networking app exclusive to gay and bisexual men, according to a police investigation.

As they gained the victims’ trust, the inmates allegedly started to ask the women to borrow money so they could visit the victims while on vacation.

“If they refused their requests, the perpetrators threatened to leak their nude images on social media,” Hendro said.

The case surfaced when a 40-year-old woman filed an extortion report with the police.

Bandung Police criminal unit head Adj. Sr. Comr. Yoris Maulana said the police had found 89 nude videos and pictures of the victims and that all of the files were stored in six different cell phones that had been confiscated by the police as evidence.

The police also confiscated Rp 40 million (US$2,905) in cash and four debit cards.

In their investigation, another inmate, who remains anonymous, testified that the perpetrators had access to mobile phones and bribed the prison guards with cash.

The police were also told that the three inmates managed to gain between Rp 40 million and Rp 80 million a week carrying out activities related to the alleged scam.

The police, along with a team from the Law and Human Rights Ministry’s West Java office, are still investigating whether prison guards were involved in the case.

“We will conduct a thorough inspection to assess the [prison] officers as well since some of them might have been involved as accomplices in this case,” the ministry’s West Java office head, Indro Purwoko, said when asked why prisoners were able to use cell phones.

Blandina Lintang, a researcher on freedom of expression and privacy rights from the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), said the case was a matter of gender-based violence, in which the culprits set up a “honey trap” to gain the victims’ trust before extorting them.

“Unfortunately, there are no specific regulations in Indonesia that protect women from such gender-based violence on the internet,” she said.

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