Jordan sounds the alarm over rising online crimes

Approximately 80% of e-crime victims are females and the most common theme is blackmail.
Sunday 22/04/2018
Jordanian soldiers watch computer screens. (AP)
Growing threats. Jordanian soldiers watch computer screens. (AP)

AMMAN - The cyber-crime unit in Jordan’s Public Security Department (PSD) has sounded the alarm over an unprecedented increase in e-crimes, calling on parents to control children’s online activities to guard against exploitation, including militant recruitment.

The widespread use of the internet and computer technology in Jordan led to the rise in criminal activity committed via social network platforms, including dealing drugs online, pirating, defamation and sexual harassment and blackmail. PSD said reported e-crimes in Jordan soared from 16 in 2008 to 2,038 in 2017.

“In 2016, a total of 3,800 crimes were registered in which 2,250 were referred to court, and this is a huge number for a small country like Jordan,” Ibrahim Mbaideen, a journalist specialised in information technology, said quoting PSD figures.

“Lately, we are hearing about incidents in which people are being threatened online through electronic blackmail, website hacking, stealing electronic data and defamation. These incidents have grown significantly and they might grow even more if nothing is done about it.”

Mbaideen said the spread of internet use and smart devices opened the door for such crimes.

“Society has been captivated by the opportunities the internet provides and the fact that you can be connected all the time through smart devices makes it easier for anybody to commit a crime online,” he said.

“As we can see the large availability of the internet contributed to the increase of e-crimes, for instance, by people who have several fake accounts online that they use to blackmail others.”

Internet penetration in Jordan increased from 127,300 in 2000 to 6.3 million in 2017 and there are 4.8 million Jordanians on Facebook, data indicate. Smart phone penetration in Jordan is 87%.

“Second-hand mobile market in Jordan is considered very big and profitable but people are not aware of the dangers of selling their old mobiles to any shop. The PSD has often advised people not to sell their old devices because there is software that can retrieve deleted photos or files so it is better to keep the old devices or just destroy them,” Mbaideen said.

Major Raed Rawashdeh, head of the investigation and technical follow-up at the PSD, recently said his unit was focused mainly on curbing crimes dealing with sexual abuse of children, electronic recruitment for terrorist organisations and hate speech.

Rawashdeh warned that social media were being increasingly used to spread hate speech and said parents should keep a close eye on their children’s online activities.

However, blackmailing through social media is spreading in Jordan.

“There were many incidents in which people threatened others and asked for money to not publish compromising photos online,” Mbaideen said. “One of the famous cases is that of an Arab woman who was blackmailed and abused by a suspect who convinced her that he can cure her using magic and threatened to share her pictures and videos if she refused to pay him money.”

The victim paid the blackmailer $1,400 but he kept asking for more money until he was caught by the PSD.

The PSD said approximately 80% of e-crime victims are females and the most common theme is blackmail.

“Usually it is done to gain money, easy money but sometimes it might get complicated such as seeking fame, disseminating religious and political issues, sexual abuse in addition to the love for power,” Mbaideen said.

Since the beginning of the year, 1,158 e-crimes have been registered: 365 cases of criminal impersonation, 310 blackmailing and defamation, 120 electronic fraud, 150 personal data theft and the rest under website hacking and applications crimes.

“The law is very clear in such cases as Article 11 of the cyber-crime law of 2015 stipulates that violators will be imprisoned for not less than three months with fines of $140-$2,400 and it gets tougher depending on the crime,” Mbaideen added.

The risk of having to live in a digital world means a bigger risk of being recruited by terrorist organisations, sexually abused and blackmailed.

“Our three children are always online through their mobiles, tablets or computers and, to be honest, it scares us a lot as parents though we are doing our part in protecting them,” said Rawan Qandah, a mother of three in her 30s.

“Basically, parents should be very open and transparent with their children because it is important to gain their confidence so that they would tell you what happens with them in the digital world where you as a parent cannot control much.”