Over 850 UK cases of sextortion have been reported in 2016 alone, as police issue a stark warning about the dangers of the emerging online crime.
In a statement released today, the National Crime Agency and National Police Chiefs Council said it believes thousands of people in the UK are likely to be falling victim to sextortion every year.
Sextortion is a form of blackmail where criminals trick unsuspecting internet users into chatting with them online by posing as someone attractive, then record videos of them performing sexual acts over webcam, and blackmail the victims by threatening to release the video to family and friends.
So far, at least four suicides in the UK have been linked to sextortion.
And this year alone, 864 cases of sextortion have been reported to the police by the NCA’s Anti-Kidnap and Extortion Unit (AKEU).
This is more than double last year’s figure of 385.
And because of the nature of the crime, officers said “significant under-reporting” is highly likely and actual numbers are expected to be much higher.
Speaking about the rising levels of sextortion, Roy Sinclair from the NCA’s AKEU, said:
“There is huge under-reporting of these kinds of offences, often because victims feel ashamed or embarrassed, but of course criminals are relying on that reaction in order to succeed.
“This is why we are launching this new campaign. We want victims and potential victims, to know how they can protect themselves and to understand what to do if they are targeted.
“This is still a relatively new and emerging crime type, so the NCA and police are working with the Home Office to get a more accurate picture of the true scale.
“However, the trend is clear. Cases of webcam blackmail — or sextortion — are going up dramatically. As recently as 2012 we were only getting a handful of reports a year, now we’re getting hundreds, and our law enforcement partners across Europe are reporting a similar picture.”
The NCA said the age range for sextortion victims is between 14 and 82, the highest proportion of victims being men aged 21-30, and a “substantial proportion” coming from the 11-20 age group.
Police believe that organised crime groups from countries like the Philippines, Ivory Coast and Morocco are behind a “large proportion” of sextortion attempts.
And now, in response to the increase, the NCA & NPCC have launched a new campaign designed to give advice to those who have been, or are likely to be, targeted.
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Kidnap & Extortion and Adult Sexual Offences, Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said:
“The distress felt is about much more than the potential loss of money or humiliation for some. We have already seen a number of young people tragically resorting to taking their own lives after attempts to blackmail them.
“By raising awareness of the issue we want to reassure victims that the police will take reports seriously. Each report will be dealt with it in confidence with no judgement made.
“Our message to those who are targeted: don’t pay and don’t panic — call us for help. Your safety and welfare will be at the heart of our investigations.”
Last year, GDI teamed up with security experts Scamalytics for a report on scammers & online fraud, coving a wide range of dating fraud, including the emerging trend of sextortion.
You can download your free copy below: