A criminal ring in Hunan province blackmailed government officials with photoshopped photos showing them in compromising situations. Picture: the ring made huge illegal gains even though the photos faked. (Internet Photo)
Five middle-ranking Chinese officials were blackmailed into paying 330,000 yuan (US$50,949) by a gang of four criminals, who digitally altered their photos to create indecent and compromising images which they threatened to release to the public unless money was paid.
The four fraudsters collected the photos of these officials -- most of whom work for the county government -- from websites and manipulated them into indecent images, which were sent to the officials with a blackmail note demanding money to ensure that the photos remained private.
The four men, who hail from Hunan Province, were said to have specific tasks in the crime: one man was responsible for selecting victims from the Internet while another digitally manipulated the victim's photos into indecent pictures with computer software and wrote the blackmail notes. The other two men were responsible for mailing the doctored photos and letters at different post offices and collecting the ransom money from banks.
In the blackmail notes, the criminals warned that they had evidence of the recipients' immoral private life and threatened to send the photos to the law enforcement department unless money, between 200,000-300,000 yuan (US$30,898-46,346), was sent within three days to designated bank accounts.
Blackmail notes and manipulated images were sent to 48 officials in five provinces in July 2010. The gang received 330,000 yuan (US$50,981) from five of them within one month.
Among the victims were two officials from Anhui Province and three from Sichuan Province.
However, some of the officials called the police when they received the blackmail note, which eventually helped investigators capture the four fraudsters.
When the four gang members were arrested in Hangzhou on Aug. 8, 2010, by police from Anhui Province, they had 101 blackmail letters in their possession.
Most of the potential victims were incumbent officials with county governments.
The leader of the gang is a 31-year-old man who claims to be a former teacher of an elementary school.
Two of the gang members have already been sentenced to jail terms of seven and six years five months. The other two criminals are being handled separately by the authorities.