In Brief

'Sextortion' on the rise: NCA's advice for blackmail victims

Numbers caught up in online sex scams doubles in 2016, with 95 per cent of victims being male

Four men have committed suicide in the past year after being caught up in online sex scams, according to a new report from the National Crime Agency (NCA), which adds the prevalence of "sextortion" crimes is rising rapidly year-on-year.

Sextortion is a form of online blackmail where criminals use fake social-media profiles to lure victims into performing sex acts in front of their webcam. The criminals then threaten to distribute the videos to unless a ransom, often hundreds or thousands of pounds, is paid.

The NCA has been alerted to 864 cases of financially-motivated webcam blackmail so far in 2016, more than double the figure from 2015. However, it says the true number of cases is expected to be much higher.

Roy Sinclair, from the NCA, said there was still "huge under-reporting" of these kinds of offences. "Victims feel ashamed or embarrassed but, of course, criminals are relying on that reaction in order to succeed," he said.

Victims in the NCA cases were aged between 14 and 82, with the highest proportion being men aged between 21 and 30 and a "substantial proportion" under 20. Around 95 per cent were male.

The NCA has issued advice to victims to help prevent sextortion:

  • Don't panic: "You are not alone," says the agency. The police will take your case seriously and deal with it in confidence. Support is also available.
  • Don't pay: Blackmailers often want more money once a ransom has been paid, while some have been known to post the video despite demands being met.
  • Don't communicate: Suspend your Facebook account but don't delete it, says the NCA, and report the matter to social media networks such as Skype or YouTube to have any videos blocked. You can also have an alert set up in case the videos resurface.
  • Preserve evidence: Take a screen shot of any communication, make a note of all details provided by the offenders and do not delete any correspondence.

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