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Bullies move into cyberspace

Two Spanish schoolboys used the latest technology to frighten and harass other pupils for profit. The two 17-year-old boys were arrested for running an extortion racket that terrorised teenagers in the town of Crevillente, near the Mediterranean coast.

The boys are accused of writing an “extremely powerful” computer virus and sending it to fellow schoolchildren in the guise of photographs or new ringtones for their mobile phones. Once installed, the “Trojan” virus would allow them to seize control of the webcams and microphones on their victims’ home computers Etelvina Andreu, an Alicante government official, said the teenagers recorded fellow pupils in “private moments inside their bedrooms” and “extorted money from them to stop the images from being published on the web”. The going rate was €200 (£135).

Police have posted a programme on their website that can be used to delete the virus from infected computers.

The two boys, who for legal reasons have not been named by police, were said to be highly skilled computer programmers. They allegedly provided two older men, also arrested this week, with the technical know-how to produce counterfeit credit cards and make Internet purchases that netted more than €60,000 (£40,200). They were paid with “top-ups” for their mobile phones.

Spanish police came across the scheme while investigating an attempt to hack into a company database last year.

After a rash of recent cases, Spain’s conservative opposition, the Popular Party, is calling for school bullying to be made a crime under the country’s civil code.

Experts say that e-bullying is on the rise worldwide as more schoolchildren gain access to mobile phones and computers. At a conference in Britain to discuss the issue this year, Nathalie Noret, of York St John’s University College, said that it was an indirect form of bullying, like gossip, that spread quickly beyond the playground.

“Acknowledging the high prevalence of this kind of bullying is important because most interventions in schools are based on the assumption that bullying is physical or occurs face-to-face,” she said.

“Teachers and parents need to realise that a child’s mobile phone or computer isn’t just a communications tool — it is also a way for a bully to reach children in their own home.”

A study by NCH, the children’s charity, last year found that 14 per cent of 11 to 19-year-olds had been threatened or harassed using text messages.

In Britain, two Southampton schoolboys received formal warnings this year for using a website to bully a classmate. The site showed photographs of their victim for several months before the boy alerted teachers. He has since moved to another school.

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