“With cybercrime, the perpetrator can be anywhere”

“The main problem with cybercrime is that the perpetrator can be anywhere, including in a different country,” says Dr Alessandro Buono, EUPOL COPPS Cybercrime Expert from Italy. “This is why it’s really important to work on prevention – for example awareness raising of the risks”.

Dr Buono has been advising the Palestinian Civil Police’s (PCP) Cybercrime Unit since November 2018. He is complimentary about the Palestinian colleagues he works with, “The PCP has a good capability – they have the knowhow and the technology to face these crimes. My first step when arriving was to work with the PCP on a detailed assessment of the crimes that they have to deal with and the human and technological capacities they have to address these”.

“The type of cybercrime that Palestinians face is different to that in Europe. The use of the internet and new media is different”. Dr Buono continues, “Financial crime, such as hacking bank details, or copying credit card details, is rare compared to Europe – the most common cybercrime in Palestine is blackmail, a crime that affects the psychological and moral integrity of the victim”.

Asked to provide some examples of the kinds of blackmail victims face, he explains, “The criminal uses social media – e.g. Facebook or WhatsApp to catch the interest of the victim and start a relationship. The relationship becomes deeper, and the criminal starts asking for things like intimate photos. The blackmailer then threatens to share the photos with family members or friends on social media and extorts money”.

The Italian cybercrime expert underlines that both men and women can fall victim to these sorts of scams, but underlines, “in Palestine the consequences for female victims can be more severe. Because of the traditional position of women in society, they can suffer a secondary victimisation – after being victims of the crime, they might also be victimised by part of the community. ”.

Dr Buono notes the difficulty of tracking down blackmailers, “The perpetrators of these crimes may not be located in Palestine, they usually live in other Arabic-speaking countries such as Egypt, Tunisia or Morocco. So we have been working with the PCP mainly on prevention. We are trying to reach sections of Palestinian society to make sure they don’t become victims”.

He notes that for certain people, talking about the issue is taboo, “In certain parts of Palestinian society, even talking about this problem attracts criticism, so you have to be careful how you approach it. It’s important to reach potential victims – especially in places like schools and universities, and get support for prevention measures”.

Dr Buono is currently working with the PCP on a campaign to warn people about the dangers of online blackmail scams. This campaign builds on awareness raising work he has already supported the PCP with, including producing a brochure distributed to schools and universities.

He has the following advice for people on how to keep safe online, “The principle is don’t trust people you don’t know. Be aware, be careful, be wary of establishing a connection with people you don’t know, monitor the people who want to become friends on Facebook and know that criminals use fake identities”.

He adds, “don’t disclose information publicly – the more pictures you put online, the more people know about you, your habits, your interests. That’s precious information for a criminal! Make your accounts private, change your passwords frequently and make your devices more secure – your phone can be stolen and this can become a very easy way to target a victim”.Dr Buono stresses that he’s not against people using social media, “we cannot stop society, we cannot stop social media, we just have to be careful”.

He concludes by urging victims to talk the police, “Report the crime – this will give the police more information for their investigations and help prevent future crimes”.