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For lust and money: when online sexual encounters end in despair and death | #datingscams | romancescams | #scams


Ill-equipped authorities are struggling to keep up with swiftly evolving technology, as criminals and deepfakes push the boundaries of image-based abuse

(This is the third and final piece in a series of stories on image-based abuse supported by the Judith Neilson Institute’s Asian Stories project, in collaboration with The Korea Times, Indonesia’s Tempo magazine, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and Manila-based ABS-CBN. Elyssa Lopez, Neil Servallos and Sonia Sarkar contributed reporting.)

Daniel Perry, 17, thought he was talking to a pretty American girl from Illinois. They soon began swapping pictures online – nothing unusual for two teenagers.

The problem was that the girl didn’t exist.

Perry, in Scotland, had fallen prey to a gang operating out of the Philippines. After secretly recording a webcam chat with him, the criminals told Perry that unless he paid them off, his friends and family would see the video. At a loss for what to do next, he took his own life by jumping off a bridge in July 2013.

Less than a year later, Interpol-backed operations in the Philippines saw dozens of suspects arrested. There was praise, the raids were dubbed a success – and there seemed to be hope that the family of Perry, an apprentice mechanic in Dunfermline, would find some closure.

But almost eight years on, his relatives have yet to see justice, much like the thousands of survivors of online sextortion who never made headlines.

With cases increasing amid the Covid-19 pandemic, we spoke to survivors in multiple locations, including Britain, Ireland and India, who were deceived and blackmailed.

Sextortion cases typically involve criminals trying to befriend men by posing as an attractive woman on Facebook and other platforms. But those who lure and engage with targets, or the “chatters” – some of whom are hired by gangs – come from a variety of backgrounds, and are sometimes minors.

With illicit operations mostly based in the Philippines, Morocco, and the Ivory Coast, experts say this form of image-based abuse is an emergent international industry shaped by the convergence of technology, money-transfer companies, cryptocurrencies, and ill-equipped authorities.

STRIKING BACK

By the end of 2013, it became obvious to the authorities that the issue of sextortion could not be resolved within a single country’s borders – a joint international response was required.

The plan was called Operation Strikeback. As laid out in an Interpol document, its genesis was in Singapore that November, when officers from the Interpol Digital Crime Centre first met police representatives from Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines.

Other international meetings took place, while investigations unearthed details of at least three criminal groups based in the Philippines that were targeting people overseas. Then things moved remarkably fast.

On April 30 and May 1, 2014, raids were conducted in Bicol, Bulacan, and Laguna provinces and Taguig city in the Philippines, resulting in 58 arrests and the seizure of 250 items, including electronic equipment. Among those arrested was Archie Tolin, who used the alias Gian, and was suspected of targeting Perry and other British nationals.

The operations were, according to Interpol, the result of intelligence sharing between the Philippines, the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, England, and Scotland. Two others followed, one in the summer of 2014 and another in 2016.

But the investigation into Perry’s death is still ongoing, according to a spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland. While a warrant had been issued for Tolin in connection with Perry’s death, no further details could be provided.

So what happened after these high-profile operations? And why has Tolin not been brought to justice?

What we learned shines a light on the challenges authorities from different continents face when they try to work together.

Brigadier General Robert T. Rodriguez, director of the Anti-Cybercrime Group of the Philippine National Police (PNP), told This Week in Asia that the Philippine authorities were aware of Perry’s case when they took Tolin into custody in 2014.

“During the Strikeback operations, Tolin was arrested due to an offence different from the one associated with the suicide of the Scottish minor,” he said, explaining that the police “needed something so that they could get their hands on Mr Tolin”.

At the time, he said, the Philippine government was willing to file charges against Tolin relating to Perry’s suicide.

“So we requested evidence sharing, documents from the United Kingdom, to build up the case, like his death certificate and the parents’ complaint. However, the UK insisted on prosecuting Tolin in Scotland and never provided the police here in the Philippines with those documents,” Rodriguez said.

“What the UK later did was to request the testimony of Tolin and other possible witnesses – if our recollection of the fact is correct.”

But the requests came too late. By then, Rodriguez said, the case for which Tolin had been arrested had already been dismissed in court and his whereabouts were unknown – and a Philippine court never issued a warrant for his extradition to Scotland.

Colonel Bernard Yang from the PNP, who took part in the Strikeback operations, said they “were actually a very good example of international cooperation. The investigation was really fast, we were able to collect information from our counterparts overseas, and I do think we hit these syndicates hard.”

But he acknowledged that the course of justice was often slow, and some of the suspects arrested during the raids were out on bail.

“We are quite frustrated, but according to the law here [suspects in] those cases are bailable,” Yang said.

Trials are still ongoing for at least three sextortion rings identified during the Strikeback operations, according to documents provided by the PNP through a Freedom of Information request.

THE QUEEN WHO GOT AWAY

In the second round of Operation Strikeback, in August 2014, the Philippine police arrested eight more adults for sextortion and rescued five minors who had been exploited by the gang.

Among those apprehended was the woman dubbed the “Queen of Sextortion”: Maria Cecilia Caparas-Regalachuela, known as Cecille Caparas, who is believed to have led such activities in several towns in Bulacan province.

This raid stemmed from complaints received by the Philippine police from sextortion survivors based in Hong Kong, where hundreds had been targeted as the criminal group racked up illicit earnings of some HK$4 million (US$520,000).

Although the suspects were expected to face charges such as robbery and extortion, it is unclear what happened after this. News reports suggested the charges against Caparas were dropped and she was able to evade the authorities due to her wealth and connections.

What we do know is that Caparas was once again arrested for sextortion in September 2016, in the third round of Operation Strikeback.

Rodriguez from the PNP said he did not have much information regarding Caparas, who is believed to have been in a relationship with a policeman. “I think she is lying low,” he said.

Philippine prosecutor Jinky Dedumo did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding Tolin and the cases related to Caparas.

According to Yang, who was with PNP’s anti-cybercrime group for about a decade, Tolin had no connection to Caparas’ gang.

He said Tolin, only 20 years old at the time of his arrest, was part of a “bunch of students who were doing crazy things online”, while Caparas’ gang “was much more professional and organised – most of the village was involved”.

Another police officer who participated in the Strikeback operations said Caparas’ modus operandi had been detected in survivors’ complaints until at least 2018. While he is not able to confirm whether she remains active, he said sextortionists operating today still used her approach of focusing on foreigners.

Other strategies, however, have changed. The chatters could previously be traced to specific locations, such as offices with computers, but many of these have been shut down by the authorities.

“Right now, they aren’t using a call-centre type set-up, it’s guerilla-type [from their own homes],” he said, adding that this made it more difficult to track them.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Philippines uses an internet protocol that hosts thousands of users in one internet protocol (IP) address, while criminals also try to hide their real locations by using virtual private networks (VPNs) and encrypted apps such as WhatsApp.

Rodriguez said his unit was following individuals with suspicious financial transactions, though he noted that sextortion crimes were mostly perpetrated by unemployed people who lived in the country’s slums.

“They find it to be easy money,” he said. “Maybe they started as single individuals doing this kind of crime. When their neighbours see that it’s a good source of income, then it flourishes.”

This Week in Asia reached out to 10 individuals in the Philippines who had tried to extort money from local and overseas targets – their contacts were shared with us by survivors and other sources. But most did not respond to our interview requests, and one demanded financial compensation, which we did not agree to provide.

‘THEY MAKE YOU FEEL SHAMEFUL AND GUILTY’

Richard*, a 20-year-old university student from Britain, did not expect a friendly chat with a stranger to go so awry.

In February, during the country’s second lockdown, people from different households were forbidden from socialising, while bars and restaurants were closed. Most students such as Richard had returned to their family homes and were taking online classes.

After chatting online to a young woman – who appeared “South Korean or Chinese”, he said, based on the two photos she had posted on her Instagram account – he agreed to have an intimate video call over Google Hangouts.

“At the time, I didn’t know it was a fake video of a woman stripping. It seemed a bit glitchy. It kept jumping and going to a black screen,” said Richard.

Then the video got cut off. “Suddenly, there was a recording of me masturbating shown on my phone,” he said. “I started to panic.”

By then, Richard knew he was being scammed. The person on the call threatened to send the video to his friends and family on Instagram if he did not pay £400 (US$565) to an account in the Philippines as soon as possible.

But even after making the payment via Western Union, he wasn’t off the hook – the scammer then asked him to send £200 every month for the next year.

“It took me two days after the event before telling my mum in person, as I was quite ashamed really, that I was naive and had fallen for this,” he said. “But that’s how they work. They make you feel shameful and guilty, just so you can pay.”

Instead of being angry, as Richard had feared, his mother was supportive. “She even helped me to gain the confidence to go to the police, and I did,” he said, adding that the authorities said they were unable to take action as the scammer was in the Philippines.

After deactivating his Instagram account, Richard skipped online classes for a week afterwards, as the episode had plunged him into an unhealthy mental state. “I couldn’t focus at all, I just kept thinking about it,” he said. “When it first happens, you feel isolated. You feel you don’t know anyone who has gone through this, and you don’t know anyone to turn to.”

He later found an online group with others who shared their sextortion stories, and feels fortunate that his friends and family were supportive of him after the incident – but he remains shaken and wary of forming any online relationships.

“What I’ve taken away from this experience is to not perform explicit acts with a trusted person or a stranger online, because you can never really know the person’s intentions,” he said.

Waghmare*, a 25-year-old banker in India, learned a similar lesson recently. After finding the “verified profile” of someone named Seema Saini on dating app OKCupid, the conversation led to sexting. “We made a video call and I started stripping for about three minutes,” he said.

It didn’t take long before Waghmare received the recording and a message that it would be posted on social media if he didn’t pay 1,500 rupees (US$20) via Google Pay.

“I was scared, so I pleaded twice to not leak it … but the person on the other side was adamant,” he said, adding that he later received a call from a supposed police officer that only led to more requests for money.

Ritesh Bhatia, a Mumbai-based cybersecurity investigator who looked into the case, said hundreds of people such as Waghmare had been targeted by a gang operating from the western Indian city of Bharatpur.

“Men are easy prey. Often, girls don’t accept requests for friendship or get connected on social media so easily,” he said.

MORE AND MORE SCAMS

In Britain, the National Crime Agency’s anti-kidnapping and extortion unit recorded 2,604 sextortion cases last year, up 62 per cent from 2019 – the largest increase in five years.

“Sadly, this a serious and organised crime that preys upon people’s emotions and vulnerability. While both men and women can be victims, our evidence suggests that men aged between 19 and 35 are predominately targets,” a spokesperson told This Week in Asia.

The majority of sextortion crimes could be traced back to overseas-based organised crime groups, he said. “For them it’s a low-risk, easy way to make money, but for victims, the impact and repercussions can be long-lasting. We know of at least four recent incidents in the UK where young men who were targeted saw no other way out than to take their own lives.”

In Hong Kong, the authorities last year recorded the highest ever number of romance scams: 905 in total, almost double the previous year, involving losses of HK$212.6 million (US$27.4 million).

According to a police spokesperson, 88 per cent of the targets were women between the ages of 15 and 85. “Fraudsters disguised themselves as soldiers, merchants or professionals on social media to gain victims’ trust. This would often lead to cyber relationships and subsequent fraudulent requests for money,” he said, adding that the police did not maintain specific figures for cases involving image-based abuse and sextortion.

Wayne May* runs the online forum Scam Survivors, which was set up about nine years ago. Over a 12-month period from February last year, he saw sextortion cases jump 13 per cent to a total of 1,790.

“People are spending more time online and spending time on their own – some are quite lonely. It was going to happen,” he said.

Every day, his group receives an average of six messages related to sextortion cases, along with some 8,000 visits to the website, which covers all forms of online scams.

“A typical [sextortion] victim would be a male in their 20s to 40s, but we’ve had people in their teens and in their 60s come to us. They come from anywhere in the world,” he said, mentioning countries such as New Zealand and Malaysia.

May said targets were usually first approached on social media – mostly Facebook – and dating websites. They were deceived, he explained, by the combination of fake video footage and software that could emulate responses such as waving in response to requests to prove the chatter was real.

Experts say some of the videos used in this manner include non-consensual footage of women sold on underground forums.

The perpetrators, May said, mostly operated out of the Philippines, the Ivory Coast, and Morocco, and took different approaches to sextortion scams.

“For example, in the Philippines, they use the word ‘scandal’ a lot. If it’s in the Ivory Coast, they say ‘I’ll ruin your life’. The West African scammers tend to demand higher amounts of money. They are very gritty and lazy. They are hoping for that one big score,” he said.

“The Philippines in particular seems to have syndicates … But in other places, like West Africa, it’s more likely to be an individual just trying their luck.”

In recent months, May said he had encountered cases involving widely varying amounts of money, from US$50 to US$90,000. While Western Union and MoneyGram were the most common platforms used, he said “cryptocurrencies are starting to come up now. And we are also seeing PayPal being used a lot more.”

DIGITAL TRAILS

David Bishop, a principal lecturer at the University of Hong Kong and a former corporate lawyer, said it was increasingly difficult to follow dirty money.

“It’s now easier than ever to move money across borders, and harder to track individuals and illicit funds,” he said. “Banks tend to be quite quick to react if you can identify some type of irregularity, specially tied to issues like human trafficking, because they don’t want to run the risk of any type of sanction, whereas the police are jurisdiction bound and are quite slow to act.”

Bishop said wire-transfer companies such as Western Union – which has about 550,000 retail agents in more than 200 countries, and facilitates payments to billions of bank accounts – had come up again and again in such cases.

“[They] are successful because they are intentionally not strict. And I think it’s disgraceful how they are beating around the bush and lie about that,” he said. “Companies like Western Union can facilitate so much illegal behaviour and money laundering because they are not regulated in the same way financial institutions like banks are. I am not saying they should be exactly the same. But they could absolutely be held to account.”

A spokesperson for Western Union “categorically refuted” the idea that the firm was not strict enough.

“We work very hard to identify fraudulent transactions and keep them from going through our systems,” she said, pointing out that agents were trained to identify, prevent, and report potential victims, while transactions headed to countries such as the Philippines were subject to fraud interviews before they were paid out.

“As criminals become increasingly savvy in moving money to pursue illicit ends, we are constantly adapting and evolving,” the spokesperson said, adding that consumer fraud perpetrated against Western Union customers had decreased by 6 per cent last year.

But scammers aren’t just moving money through networks such as those operated by Western Union. Some have even gone so far as to open branches themselves.

Marcel Jing Caparas-Regachuela – daughter of the “Queen of Sextortion” Caparas – owned two Western Union branches in Bulacan. When she was arrested in 2014 as part of the second Strikeback operation, the authorities said the branches were used as remittance agencies for sextortion money.

“Although we can’t get into the specifics of a criminal case, we can assure you we have appropriately dealt with this situation,” the Western Union spokeswoman said, adding that ties with Caparas-Regachuela had been terminated.

A spokesperson for PayPal, which was also named as a channel for fund transfers by survivors speaking to This Week in Asia, said it had devoted “significant resources” to proactively preventing illicit activities on the platform, including working with law enforcement officials.

CRYPTO CONCERNS

While money-transfer companies are widely used by sextortionists, experts say they have also come up with other ways to move funds, including gift cards for Amazon, Google Play and Apple, as well as using online gambling platforms.

But the most sophisticated criminals have turned to cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, to hide their activities.

A 2019 study estimated that some US$76 billion of illegal activity annually involved bitcoin – about 46 per cent of bitcoin transactions per year.

Co-author Sean Foley, an associate professor of the Department of Applied Finance at Macquarie University in Australia, said they had examined marketplaces on the dark net – a layer of the internet that can only be accessed through anonymising software such as Tor – that typically dealt in the sale of illicit goods and services such as drugs and hacking.

He said image-based abuse – including sextortion and the trade of non-consensual images – represented a small portion of how bitcoin was used, but it was an emergent industry with a potential for growth that had been spurred by the anonymity of cryptocurrency-based payments.

“It is definitely concerning,” Foley said. “All innovation has its dark side; facilitating the movement of image abuse from a cottage industry to a lucrative one is an unpleasant by-product of the disruptive benefits cryptocurrencies can bring to our financial systems.”

Talis J. Putnins, a co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Technology Sydney’s business school, said the dark net and cryptocurrencies had allowed illegal pornography to reach large international audiences while providing perpetrators with a sense of safety.

“Technological advancements enabled the industry to more easily cross national borders, resulting in streaming online exploitation of children, often in developing countries, sometimes even with the consent of the parents,” he said. “They enabled broader distribution of illicit materials – videos and images.”

Putnins said the “perception of a payment mechanism that is untraceable or completely anonymous no doubt encouraged the participation of some offenders, and encouraged further commercialisation of this industry”.

But the shield provided by bitcoin is not impenetrable. For example, Foley said, a vendor of this content might hide in the shadows until they want to “cash in” their bitcoin for euros or dollars. Accessing an exchange that had their identification on file, he said, could reveal all of their transactions and counterparties.

In the “Nth Room” online sex scandal in South Korea last year, dozens of targets, including underage girls, were blackmailed and forced to upload graphic and violent videos of themselves to Telegram channels – while about 260,000 users accessed these groups, often using cryptocurrencies. Some are believed to have been charged up to 1.5 million won (US$1,340) to view the content.

Authorities in South Korea – where trials related to the case are ongoing – last year said they had been able to trace dozens of people who paid in cryptocurrencies to access the videos.

Although most criminals prefer bitcoin because it is widely accepted, experts note that the illegal share of bitcoin activity has declined due to growing mainstream interest and the emergence of more opaque cryptocurrencies.

“The current world standard is now ZCash, [which allows] users to hide the sending address, receiving address, and amount sent,” Foley said. “These shielded transactions are truly opaque, and as such have become the preference for those involved in serious criminal activity.”

BORDER ISSUES

Foley said he doubted that law enforcement agencies “outside the US, Europe and Australia” had a good grasp of how to manage cryptocurrency surveillance.

“It is crazy how easy it is to avoid taxes, launder money or conduct illegal activity, accruing significant personal profits, without the potential to be discovered. It is truly a criminal’s dream,” he said.

An Asia-based cybersecurity expert who worked for Interpol said authorities in Asian countries were often ill prepared to deal with digital sex crimes.

“They lack technical capabilities. Firstly, it is hard to retain good people because the private sector pays more,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Secondly, police forces rotate staff between different jobs, so it is very hard for someone to build up the expertise.”

Another issue, he said, was the lack of communication between agencies from different countries as well as the absence of a coordinating global body.

“Interpol doesn’t do a very good job at this,” he said, adding that a secondment at the international organisation was usually three years, which in his view was insufficient time to develop a long-term project.

Within law enforcement agencies, the cybersecurity expert said, half the problem was that those who had the technical skills seldom got to coordinate investigations or attend international meetings.

In some jurisdictions, he added, crimes such as sextortion were not prioritised because it was difficult for arrests to be made.

In Hong Kong, for instance, “the police force is being pulled in all directions”, he said, referring to the wave of protests and an increased focus on national security issues over the past two years.

Police in the city did not respond to queries about the size of its cybersecurity unit or requests for details about its handling of cross-border cases involving image-based abuse and sextortion.

While Bishop from the University of Hong Kong agreed that the city’s authorities struggled to follow digital trails, he said “the biggest problem is the natural diffusion of responsibility. When you move things across the border, everyone can point fingers at everyone else, and that’s why scammers are so successful now.”

There appear to be similar issues in Malaysia. “Unfortunately, in instances where there are elements of cross-border crimes, there is a higher likelihood of the police declaring a case NFA [no further action] than actually exploring possible avenues to resolve the issue or punishing the perpetrator,” said lawyer Kuhan Manokaran.

A police officer based in Hong Kong, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the international cooperation structures existed, but were just not being used efficiently.

“Are Interpol and Europol doing something about it? The channels are there, but whether it is a priority is a different matter,” he said. “If the crime involves a lot of media attention, Interpol will pay attention, but if it’s just another random teenager, it’s a different story.”

In response to the exponential increase in online fraud, a recent Interpol operation codenamed HAECHI-I recorded more than 500 arrests and nearly 900 solved online fraud cases – including some related to sextortion – following cooperation between nine Asian countries. Six months of investigations, which ended in May, saw the authorities intercept US$83 million in funds transferred by survivors to scammers.

CRACKS IN THE SYSTEM

Rodriguez, the PNP cybercrime unit chief, admitted that his team faced endless challenges – not least of which were limitations on budget and equipment, as well as the fast-evolving nature of cybercrime.

He said that while cases involving locally based Filipinos had increased, scams targeting foreigners were the hardest to crack due to difficulties obtaining statements, complaints, and evidence.

Rodriguez also said social media platforms did not offer enough assistance during investigations, and treated the authorities differently depending on where they were located.

“One of the problems we have is delayed action from these platforms,” he said, adding that most of the cases involved Facebook. “In some cases, we have help from our foreign counterparts. It’s better if the requests come from the US – the cases where we are the ones requesting [assistance] are really very difficult for us.”

In February, John*, who lives in Ireland, was approached on Facebook by someone he thought was a woman from Dublin.

“The girl’s account had posts from 10 years ago. She even had regular posts from yesterday or a week before. It didn’t look fake,” he said.

The pair eventually took part in a video call, during which he didn’t show his face – despite her insistence. When he continued to refuse, the video was cut off.

John, who is in his 20s, then received a message that said: “I’m not a girl. I now have a video of you chatting with a nude woman online, now pay me.”

He was asked to make a payment of €1,000 (US$1,220) to the Philippines or the video would be released, while the scammer also found some of John’s friends and distant relatives on his profile and created a Facebook Messenger group that included them.

“At one point, he even started a video call with me just to ask about the transactions,” John said. “The scammer wasn’t able to turn off the camera immediately … I saw that he was operating in what looked like an office. It wasn’t a rural area as some documentaries showed. He even had a gaming chair, so I figured this must be a business.”

After receiving more threats, John deactivated his Facebook account and never sent the money.

“One of my friends [in the Facebook group] said the video was indeed uploaded and some may have seen it. But they have since deleted the group,” he said.

John may have escaped sextortion, but he is upset about how Facebook handled the case.

Their policies, he said, seemed to support – if not condone – these malicious acts. “For example, [the scammers] were able to add my friends on Messenger without my consent. That shouldn’t be possible. And then they still wouldn’t take down the account of the person on Facebook, even when over a hundred of my friends reported the incident.”

A month after the incident, John said the account of the scammer was still active.

A Facebook spokesperson said sharing non-consensual intimate images or videos was not allowed on Facebook or Instagram, and any such content would be removed.

“In most cases we will also disable an account for sharing intimate content without permission,” she said, adding that “people who have had accounts deleted for breaking our rules may not be permitted to create a new account”.

But survivors and experts say it is too easy for perpetrators to set up new accounts even after Facebook takes action.

“Every single social media platform has responsibility,” said Elena Martellozzo, a criminologist and senior lecturer at Middlesex University London. “It’s almost like making a car that is not safe. A manufacturer wouldn’t put a car on the streets unless it’s been tested and is 100 per cent safe.”

MONETISING ABUSE

Honza ?ervenka – an associate with law firm McAllister Olivarius, which specialises in cases of discrimination and abuse in Britain and the US – said he had seen in recent months an increasing number of people trying to profit from different forms of image-based sexual abuse, mostly through new platforms such as OnlyFans.

The London-based social media network – which went from 7.5 million users in November 2019 to about 130 million by the end of May – allows users to sell content to monthly subscribers.

“We had reports of people creating an account on OnlyFans and sharing somebody else’s internet videos,” ?ervenka said, adding that the platform did not have effective ways of ascertaining the identity or consent of people who appeared in videos or photos.

An OnlyFans spokesperson said the company had a team manually reviewing identities and applications, while it also used software to verify the authenticity and integrity of content such as selfies with identification provided by potential creators.

She said the platform goes “above and beyond [its legal obligations] by using a combination of software, human monitoring and community reporting to help keep users safe,” adding that images of minors were removed as soon as possible.

But ?ervenka said platforms such as OnlyFans had “unfortunately opened the door for monetising [abuse], where the attacker can collect cash for making some materials available publicly”.

He said this had become a trend, as had the use of deepfakes – sexual photographs and videos generated using artificial intelligence, making them look more real than other digitally manipulated content.

In South Korea, an online petition was launched in January demanding stronger punishment for websites that distributed deepfake pornography of local female celebrities, and for people who downloaded them.

“[The number of] non-consensual and harmful deepfake videos crafted by expert creators is now doubling roughly every six months,” said deepfake detection company Sensity – which had detected more than 85,000 such videos by December last year – in a report.

Sensity also warned that the deepfake landscape was quickly evolving as new consumer apps were making the technology even more easily available.

“I think it’s unfortunately just a matter of time for [deepfakes] to really gain notoriety and damage a lot of people’s lives,” ?ervenka said.

Clare McGlynn QC, professor of law at the Durham University in England, shares the same worry.

“Unless we get on top of detecting these materials and criminalising their distribution, there are going to be significant ongoing problems for victims,” she said. “Deepfakes and altered images are a significant concern. This is the future of image-based sexual abuse.”

*The names of survivors and people working to combat image-based abuse have been changed to protect their identities*





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