A South African man has admitted carrying out a cyber-harassment campaign against his neighbors in an attempt to extort money.
Residents of the same quiet street in a Durban suburb that Dharmesh Singh calls home were subjected to weeks of abuse with no idea that the person behind it was their immediate neighbor.
Twenty-three-year-old Singh used unregistered SIM cards to create fake social media profiles from which he sent threatening messages to residents of Battersea Road, Reservoir Hills. He also sent threatening text messages and WhatsApp messages under the alias Sashin Soobramoney.
Some Battersea Road residents, including Singh’s own parents, were inconvenienced by the almost constant arrival of e-hailing client pick-up services and food deliveries that they had not ordered in March and April last year.
However, it was Andy Hingdebi, the man living directly adjacent to Singh, who filed a complaint against the cyber-stalker. The married father of two young children said that along with hundreds of false food deliveries and unrequested pick-up orders, he received multiple threatening messages.
Singh threatened to rape Hingdebi’s wife and children, rob his home, and kill Hingdebi and the security guard he had hired unless Hingdebi left R50,000 in cash (approximately $3,400) in the mailbox at the front of his house to be collected.
No prior altercations had taken place between Hingdebi and Singh.
“My advice to parents is not to put your kids out there on social media,” said Hingdebi. “It was terrible when he sent me pictures of my children and threatened rape.”
Singh was arrested by Durban police in November and pleaded guilty to one charge of attempted extortion. Under a plea agreement, Singh accepted a two-year custodial sentence suspended for five years and a fine of R60,000 (just over $4K).
Verlie Oosthuizen, an attorney specializing in cybercrime matters at legal firm Shepstone and Wylie, said that the court outcome was precedent-setting in South Africa.
“It is one of the first times I’ve heard of a criminal conviction being followed through on,” said Oosthuizen. “It is a good precedent-setting case for people who are victims of this kind of harassment.”