Wednesday, May 6, 2020

(Stories)How a Playboy, and a Model Exposed an Online Child Porn Scam

Earlier this year, Malaysian DJ and Playboy model Leng Yein began receiving messages from young and underage female fans begging her for help. They said they were victims of an elaborate scam orchestrated by users on Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, and other popular social media platforms.

Posing as modeling agents, friends, and ex-lovers, among other fake and stolen identities, the perpetrators falsely promised money and prizes, such as iPhones, in exchange for nude photos and videos, which were later sold and published online without victims’ consent.

In one case, a WeChat user with the handle “Jiawenn94” offered $1,835 for nude selfies, purportedly for their boss’ “personal collection.” In another case, a Facebook user with the handle “Angelo Chin” offered an undisclosed amount for “sexy pictures,” which they claimed were for a client “to use in their advertisement.”

Some users even threatened to send copies of the ill-gotten photos to victims’ friends, family, and co-workers if they didn’t keep supplying p****graphic content.

a screenshot of a cell phone: Handout© Provided by The Daily Beast Handout
Yein, who frequently warns about online scams through her popular Facebook page (3 million followers), was horrified. “The worst extortion case of naked photos in Malaysian history!” she proclaimed in a Feb. 21 YouTube video exposing the scam.

By then, she was receiving hundreds of messages daily, all telling similar stories.

Yein’s fans are victims of a massive, highly organized online p*** ring, according to Internet Removals, an Australian reputation management and takedown company. Since February, the company has worked with Yein (who did not return requests for comment) to remove more than 136,000 of the offending photos and videos from Mega, the New Zealand hosting site. Among them, a video of a trans man being assaulted by a group of men, stripped of his clothes, and set on fire.

“While we typically charge fees for the provision of our services, the scale of harm caused by incidents was enough to warrant immediate action without cost to any of the victims,” said Jasmine Loh, a reputation analyst at Internet Removals Asia.

Loh provided The Daily Beast with links to roughly a dozen Facebook and Twitter accounts used to sell and distribute the lewd material, with some accounts charging up to $115 for “private collections” of Malaysian women and, according to Yein, girls as young as 8 and 11 years old.

Malaysian law prohibits the production, possession, and distribution of child p***ography, and carries a maximum penalty of up to 30 years imprisonment and six strokes of the whip. The country nevertheless has the highest number of IP addresses uploading and downloading child p***ography in Southeast Asia, according to data from the Royal Malaysia Police.

One Twitter account seemed to take pleasure in humiliating victims, posting full names, Instagram handles, and photos of random high school and junior high school students with the hashtags #rape and #bitch. Another account posted revenge p*** they said they’d received from the victim’s boyfriend, tweeting: “If you like, you can forward it, let everyone know this girl is scum.”

A Daily Beast investigation uncovered dozens more Twitter accounts peddling similar content, some boasting tens of thousands of followers.

The accounts offered a variety of payment options, including bank transfers, e-Wallets, and WeChat’s “red envelope” app, which allows users to send random sums of money to one another as a gift, in accordance with the Chinese tradition of hongbao. (WeChat recently said it blocked more than 40,000 accounts from this service for sharing violent p***ography and engaging in fraud.)

While some accounts promised “absolute security and confidentiality,” not all were as careful with their customers’ personal information. One careless vendor, for example, posted redacted WeChat receipts for transactions involving “leaked” photos of Malaysian schoolgirls, but failed to properly mask buyers’ names.

None of the accounts contacted by The Daily Beast returned a request for comment.

Twitter permanently suspended at least 24 accounts last Tuesday after inquiries from The Daily Beast. In a statement, Twitter said it “has zero tolerance for any material that features or promotes child sexual exploitation,” and that it aggressively fights online child sexual abuse and invests in technology to enforce its policies.

“Our dedicated teams work to stay ahead of bad-faith actors and to ensure we’re doing everything we can to remove content, facilitate investigations, and protect minors from harm—both on and offline,” a spokesperson said. “We also partner with organizations around the globe in this area, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). When we remove content, we immediately report it to NCMEC, and NCMEC makes reports available to the appropriate law enforcement agencies around the world to facilitate investigations and prosecutions.”

Facebook removed five accounts from its platform and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), including three accounts that were soliciting nude photos and selling homemade sex videos stolen from Singaporean YouTuber Joal Ong’s iCloud account in 2018.

“We work hard to keep people safe online and offer tools like block and report to help people respond to unwanted or suspicious messages,” a Facebook spokesperson said, adding that it had removed the accounts for violating its policies.

The identities of the alleged scammers are not known. But at least two of the now-deleted Facebook accounts appeared to be involved in other questionable online activities, including quick-cash schemes and selling luxury watches. Loh said that these vendors may have started selling and extorting nude content in order to recoup financial losses to their businesses as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. That, however, was no excuse.

“At its worst, image-based abuse leads to self-harming and loss of life,” Loh told The Daily Beast. “We implore anyone, whether they are young men sharing images with their friends, or an organization sharing these images for profit, to reconsider their actions before more victims harm themselves, or take their life. There is no gain that can justify these actions.”

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