UK cops spot webcam 'sextortion' plots: How vics can hit stop
Don't panic, don't pay
The NCA has said that "at least four young men have taken their own lives" after being targeted by financially motivated webcam blackmailers, while UK police forces are sharing stats and tips in a campaign to combat the rising problem.
Police say they've recorded 864 cases of webcam blackmail cases so far in 2016, more than double the 385 reported in 2015.
Sextortion is a form of blackmail where criminals use bogus identities to befriend victims online before persuading them to perform sexual acts in front of their webcam or to exchange illicit photos. These webcam images are recorded by the criminals who then threaten to share them with the victims' friends and family unless they are paid. Escalating requests for further payment sometimes follow. At least four suicides in the UK have been linked to this form of blackmail.
The hundreds of cases reported in the UK is bad enough, but police chiefs reckon the crime is even more commonplace due to under-reporting because victims often feel ashamed to speak up.
Police and the National Crime Agency (NCA) have uncovered evidence that organised crime groups – largely based overseas in countries including the Philippines, Ivory Coast and Morocco – are behind a large proportion of sextortion attempts.
Victims in cases reported to the NCA by local police forces were aged between 14 and 82, with the highest proportion being men aged between 21 and 30. In response to the increase, the NCA and the National Police Chiefs' Council have launched a campaign designed to advise those who have been, or are likely to be, targeted.
The campaign includes a film aimed at the most vulnerable victims, helping them to recognise a potential criminal approach. Online advice, including the importance of reporting the crime to their local police, also features in the public awareness push.
In a statement, Roy Sinclair, from the NCA's Anti-Kidnap and Extortion Unit, 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." ®