The UK’s National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has reported a sharp increase in the number of ‘sextortion’ cases since last year. The NPCC also said that “at least four suicides in the UK have been linked to this form of blackmail”.
According to the NPCC, ‘sextortion’ is:
“A form of blackmail where criminals use fake identities to befriend victims online and then persuade them to perform sexual acts in front of their webcam. These webcam images are recorded by the criminals who then threaten to share them with the victims’ friends and family unless they are paid. Sometimes there are escalating requests for further payment.”
For this year so far, 864 cases of financially motivated webcam blackmail have been reported to police, this is more than double last year's total, in which police received 385 reports. Those who filed a report with the police are aged between 14 and 82, while men aged between 21 and 30 had reported the most cases, followed by those under 20 years old.
In response, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and NPCC have launched a new campaign to give advice to those who have been, or are likely to be, targeted. Roy Sinclair, from the NCA’s Anti-Kidnap and Extortion Unit, said:
“There is a 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 they can protect themselves and to understand what to do if they are targeted.”
In terms of aiding police with their investigations, the NPCC recommends the following to victims:
- Don't panic - The police will take your case seriously, it'll be dealt with in confidence and you won't be judged by the police for being in the situation you're in.
- Don't pay - It is advisable to not pay your blackmailer. Even if you pay the blackmailer, they may still release the material, or escalate the payments.
- Keep any evidence - While you can suspend your social media accounts, you should not delete them. The police can get access to communications on suspended accounts but not deleted one. Additionally, you should screenshot all of the messages to give to the police to help the investigation.
- Inform social media services - Operators of social media services that you use may be able to remove material uploaded by a blackmailer. They may also be able to set up an alert in case the material resurfaces.