An online scam has been blackmailing young women and girls of Islamic faith around Australia into sending inappropriate photos via direct message.
Global fashion brand Hijab House said in the last two weeks it had been approached by 800-900 girls who all said they had received threatening messages from an online account pretending to work for the brand.
Once the culprit gains the person’s trust, he or she orders that person to perform sexually explicit and culturally offensive poses.
“The perpetrator uses multiple methods; they arrange for things like photo shopping photos and uploading them on adult sites for emotional blackmail, to sexual assault, claims of stalking and death threats,” Hijab House director Tarik Houchar told SBS News on Thursday.
Hijab House originated in Western Sydney and now there are stores in Melbourne, Lebanon, with plans to expand to Egypt next year.
“[The online predators] are using the trust we’ve built in the community, as a means of targeting these young people,” Mr Houchar said.
Sydney Instgrammer Leyla Kukuljac, 17, said young Islamic women were being targeted “all the time”.
“It’s happened to me, it’s happened to my friends, probably everyone else … it’s bad,” she said.
“People are just trying to take advantage of you, your scarf, and your body.”
The Australian Muslim Women’s Association’s Silma Ihram said she was appalled by the scam.
She said she wants to reiterate to girls and young women that dressing modestly is something to be proud of.
“There are people who don’t appreciate women who want to be modest an who will do everything they can to undermine that,” she said.
The Australian Federal Police has described the scheme as “grooming”.
An AFP spokesman told SBS News: “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.”
“These photos are then used to blackmail the victims into sending further images.”
The AFP is currently “assessing the matter”.