Cybersex Predator Specifically Targeting Young Aussie Muslim Girls
An online sex predator is using Instagram and followers of a popular Sydney shop to dupe young Australian Muslim girls into sharing explicit and degrading photos and videos of themselves.
Dozens of teenage girls who follow modest clothing retailer Hijab House on Instagram have fallen victim to the scammer, who pretends to work as a modelling agent for the business which has stores in Sydney and Melbourne and a vast social media presence.
In direct messages, the impersonator claims to be a female modelling scout, and asks girls to send photos and video of themselves, with a promise they will be sent packages of clothing to model.
But in many cases, once the girls have sent either their address for the package to be delivered, or photographs of themselves, the predator threatens or blackmails them into sending more explicit material.
"We first got complaints about two weeks ago," Hijab House owner Tarik Houcher told 10 daily.
"Initially it was just girls messaging us to verify that the scam was real or not, because they were unsure, but when we started getting more and more of these messages, 30 or 40 a day, we started looking further and we uncovered this mass ring of harassment and abuse."
In one case a 13-year-old girl was blackmailed into posing in her bedroom with a dirty sock in her mouth while sniffing her mother's shoes. The image was then circulated to her friends.
"She was humiliated," says Houcher.
"It caused her to skip school and suffer an anxiety attack. For a 13-year-old that could ruins someone's life. Their reputation is everything at school."
In another incident, a girl's image ended up on a pornographic website.
"In some cases money has been demanded," says Houcher.
"But because he's targeting young girls, he's worked out he can't get money off them, so it's changed to other things like getting them to lick toilet seats or other sick things."
Hijab House believes the scammer is a man who is working his way through the shop's large Instagram following.
"The conversations often go for weeks and they're done in a way where trust is built up. It's all tailored to each specific girl, her life, and her online presence."
"They pretend to be Hijab House, and they have a verification message from us that's been falsely created to show that he's a consultant for us."
"He says to the young girl, 'tell me to hold up fingers and I'll show you I'm real', and he'll send them photos of other women holding up the same number of fingers."
"In the Hijabi world, young women can't show their hair or body to men or public. But these girls think this is another female. They want to show their body for a modelling job. As a 13 or 14-year-old they don't know that's not right."
Hijab House believes up to 900 of its followers have been contacted by the predator and know of around 50 who have fallen victim to him in some way.
Staff have shared information about the scam on social media, but say they're disappointed with the response from law enforcement agencies and the social media giant when staff and customers reported the profiles in question.
"I am shocked and bewildered at the lack of action by Instagram," said Houcher.
"As a billion dollar company they can afford to have the resources to have a task force to deal with this sort of thing".
Houcher said he first contacted Crime Stoppers on Tuesday, but was told he needed to contact his local police station.
When he called Granville Police, he says he was met with disinterest, and told to make a report to Instagram.
"When the police didn't help, I contacted the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and they didn't help either. They said I had to go to the police and made a report to Instagram. I said I'd done both."
Houcher says he finally sparked the interest of the Australian Federal Police when he sent through some of the screen shots showing how the scam was operating.
"When I sent them, I immediately got a call from an officer and they said they'd be investigating it."
He wants the broader community to be aware of how this predator operates, to help shut him down.
"If this scammer is getting through to some girls then he's going to keep doing it, but if he's constantly getting blocked, then he won't be able to find fresh victims."
In a statement to 10 daily, the Australian Federal Police confirmed it is aware of the Hijab House grooming case.
"We have received reports of an individual posing as an employee of the company and asking the young people – many aged between 13 and 17 – to provide sexualised images of themselves," the statement says.
"These photos are then used to blackmail the victims into sending further images"
"The AFP is currently assessing the matter."
10 daily has also contacted NSW Police for comment.
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