POLICE have reported a shocking rise in the number of people being blackmailed as part of an increasing cyber “sextortion” racket.
At least four victims have taken their own lives after being targeted by the international organised crime gangs behind the vile scam.
Sextortion is a form of blackmail where criminals use fake identities to befriend victims on websites such as Facebook, Skype or Linkedin before persuading them to perform sex acts in front of their webcam.
The images are recorded by the criminals who then threaten to share them with the victims’ friends and family unless they pay up.
The National Crime Agency said the number of people reporting this type of blackmail more than doubled from 385 in 2015 to 864 up to November 2016. It was just nine in 2011.
“The really key point is that as a result of this criminality, we have had four young men in the United Kingdom who have killed themselves – taken their own lives – because they saw no way out of a situation that they had gotten into.
“Firstly, we are providing information to police forces to better equip them to deal with these crimes when they are reported.
“Perhaps more important is a public awareness campaign to make not only potential victims, but all those around them – friends of potential victims, family members of potential victims – really raise awareness to what is a very damaging and invidious crime.”
The National Crime Agency and the National Police Chiefs’ Council have launched a new campaign to advise those who have been, or are likely to be, targeted.
It includes a film aimed at the most vulnerable victims, helping them to recognise a potential criminal approach and providing online advice, including the importance of reporting the crime to their local police.
The NCA said the victims are aged between 14 and 82, with the highest proportion being men aged between 21 and 30, and with a substantial proportion in the 11-20 age group.
It also added that the crime gangs identified were working out of Morocco, the Philippines and the Ivory Coast.
Last year more than 40 arrests were made in the Philippines, and there is one ongoing international prosecution connected to one of the suicides reported this year.
In one case the victim had been told “your life is over, you may as well go and kill yourself”.
Roy Sinclair, from the NCA, 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.”
He added the campaign was aimed at tackling this and that he expected the numbers of sextortion reports to dramatically increase.
The NCA’s advice to any potential targets is: “Do not panic, do not pay, do not communicate and preserve evidence.”