It starts out simple. An attractive girl adds you on Facebook. You start talking. Things get steamy. You take your conversation somewhere more private. She takes off her clothes. She asks you to do the same. She starts masturbating. You do the same thing. Things end with at least one of you feeling good.
Then a few moments later, a video of you masturbating surfaces on YouTube. The uploader threatens you that she would send the link to your family and friends unless you send USD 3,000 to a Western Union account in the Philippines. If he followed her instructions, she would delete the video.
You aren’t the first, and definitely, not the last to fall victim to such a scheme.
Maria Caparas-Regalachuelo is the inventor of this scam; hence, earning her the title: Queen of Sextortion. She’s currently in jail due to international pressure.
Maria boasts about the fact that it only takes her 30 minutes to convince ‘stupid’ men to get naked and perform sex acts via Skype. After the deed, she’ll post videos on YouTube then threaten the victims and their families—unless they pay up.
Maria is not alone in this scheme. She has her crew of “chatters”, composed of young girls, as young as 13 years old, who scour the internet, looking for targets. Once they have found their clueless victim, they would play a pre-recorded video of an Asian woman performing a striptease, followed by a string of racy text messages. When you’re in that mood, there’s no more thinking rationally about what could happen afterwards.
The ‘chatter’ would capture their victim performing a sex act on camera, then upload that video to an unlisted YouTube page. The chatter’s boss is the one who gets in touch with the victim, threatening the latter that a link to the video will be sent to their family and friends via Facebook if they don’t pay up right away.
Maria and her gang have it down pat. They go through the same thing on every victim they could find. But in 2013, they were to blame for the suicide of 17 year old trainee mechanic, Daniel Perry, who leapt to his death, after being told by his online tormentors that he would be “better off dead.”
Daniel, who lived in Dunfermline, Scotland, fell victim to the scam after being contacted by someone he was led to believe was a girl in the United States.
After being tormented to pay more and more money, he sent a final message to his blackmailers saying “bye, bye” before jumping to his death from the Forth Road Bridge.
After being targeted by strangers online, he was left so traumatized that he chose to take his own life. For Marie’s gang, he was just another victim to exploit for cash.
Many others after him have fallen victim to the scam.
Among the victims of Maria and her gang include a millionaire pop star and a tycoon’s son who paid a large sum in repeated blackmail demands before going to the authorities. Maria was once arrested, but denied being the gang’s ringleader, saying that she was just among the many chatters.
“We tease them to get them comfortable and we work to a prepared text. Some of the chatters can barely speak Engish and many are young gay men, but they only communicate by text then show a pre-recorded video so that the victim would never know,” Maria recounts the play-by-play of their scam.
Seemingly regretting her actions, she said, “I did feel sorry for some victims. In one case, I told my victim, ‘Don’t flirt on the internet again. Look what happens.’ I am ashamed of what I did. I am so sorry for the victims. I was terribly shocked and sad when I heard about what happened to the boy in Scotland. I don’t know anything about him, but I’m very sad for his family’s loss.”
Maria has been suspected of continuing her syndicate from behind bars. She wept as she was in Bulacan Provincial Jail. The mother of five said, “I have to sleep in the hallway at night. I’m praying to Jesus to let me be with my kids again. I ask for forgiveness. Please have a heart for me. I love my children and I have put them to shame. I promised them I will give up cybercrime and stay at home and run my shop.”
Maria even added, “How could an uneducated woman like me organize a criminal syndicate?” She was asked about what she thought of her victims falling for the scam. Inconsistent with her statement about feeling bad for the victims, she replied, “They are stupid.”
Maria has insisted that she had nothing to do with Daniel’s death. She worked as a chatter for only eight months, racking up Php 800,000, before quitting after her first arrest in 2014 following Daniel’s death.
Damning evidence of her significant role in the syndicate included pictures of her 13 year old son, covered in banknotes, taunting those who oppose her cybercrime activities.
Another set of pictures showed a group of her chatters celebrating their earnings at a Christmas party, donning t-shirts in honor of their boss, Maria, calling themselves the “Ceecelle All Stars.” Ceecelle was one of Maria’s aliases.
The profits earned by the gang have brought about a fleet of cars, up to 10 cars, flat screen TVs, iPhones, iPads, and Samsung smartphones, among others. North Hills Village in the Bulacan District was the home of Marie, wherein much of the population was said to be involved in the sextortion activities. Marie’s home served as a place for her to allegedly recruit teenagers for her syndicate. A room, lined with 19 computer cubicles, was believed to be where her chatters would seduce and blackmail foreign men online.
Marie’s gang was believed to have blackmailed at least 500 victims, with the amounts ranging from £200 to £15,000. The demands would continue until the victims have run out of money or gone to authorities.
Marie’s initial charges were dropped amid suspicions that she bribed officials, but was arrested again in 2016 as the sextortion activities continued; putting international pressure on the Philippine police. While in jail, Marie was able to keep a smartphone, as she was one of the wealthier inmates there, bribing others to turn a blind eye.
Residents in North Hills Village insisted that Marie was the mastermind in the sextortion scheme. One resident said, “This is a poor village made up of people relocated from the Manila slums but look around and you'll see all the young kids have designer clothes. That’s because 70% of the households here make their money from sextortion. The only difference is they do it from their own homes since Caparas was arrested. It's still going on because it's easy money and money means everything in a place like this.”
The gang's activities are thought to have contributed to a surge in 'Sextortion' cases in Britain with four more suicides in 2016 and a doubling of reported cases compared to 2015.
There could still be a number of cases out there wherein sextortion schemes are rampant; especially for a country that's so in-tune with social media and more young people being targeted to take part in it. The internet can be a really dark place. You can’t just trust anybody, especially when you’re being told to do lewd acts. Think twice before sharing any information about yourself. Better safe than sorry.
ABOUT PH MURDER STORIES