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Wednesday, 30 November 2016

National Crime Agency warn of significant rise in 'sextortion' blackmailing incidents

Written by The Press Association

Four men killed themselves in the last year after being blackmailed as part of an increasing cyber "sextortion" racket.

International gangs of organised criminals are targeting more and more young men by luring them into potentially compromising positions, the National Crime Agency said.

The number of people reporting financially-motivated cyber enabled blackmails more than doubled from 385 in 2015 to 864 up to November 2016.

This number has risen from nine in 2011.

Sextortion is a form of blackmail where criminals use fake identities to befriend victims online - using websites such as Facebook, Skype or Linkedin - before persuading them to perform sexual 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 accede to their demands for payment.

National Police Chiefs' Council lead for kidnap and extortion and adult sexual offences, Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, said: "It is in response to a really worrying emerging threat in terms of what we call sextortion.

"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 (pictured) 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.

Mr Hewitt continued: "This is organised crime. Whilst the individual cases themselves may involve relatively limited amounts of money, this is being organised by well-equipped, often off-shore organised crime groups that are facilitating this activity.

"And it targets people that are in social chat applications of one description or another, predominantly men, although we have seen some cases with women as the victim."

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 groups 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."

Here are four case studies of people who have fallen victim to the crime:

Gary is in his late teens and from Hampshire

Due to working night shifts, Gary found it difficult to meet people and decided to try to do so online.

One woman he had been speaking to online for some time suggested persistently that they move the conversation onto Skype and asked for his Facebook profile and picture.

He said: "She was halfway across the room. It lasted for around 30 to 45 minutes, all on the phone. She said 'show me a bit more, and show me your face'.

"Then the messages came up - 'pay £500 or this is going all over Facebook. I want £500' then she started listing my friends' details. I said I could not afford £500, she said £200 was the lowest. I said I could only pay £50.

"I offered to go to the bank but went to the police station instead. I was trembling throughout the whole thing, shaking and thinking 'what's going to happen?'. This will ruin my life and did not know what to do. If this video is released onto Facebook, what would I do?

"What's going to happen with my job? What will my friends think? I thought about suicide, it would have been too embarrassing. I would not have been able to face anyone. But I went to the police, and kept her talking by saying I was at the bank."

John is in his 60s and from Hertfordshire

John took to online dating after splitting from his wife and eventually made contact with a woman on a Filipino site that a friend recommended to him.

John and the woman had normal conversations and one night she suggested they start speaking on Skype

He said: "We exchanged some messages and she made some suggestion to say that she would remove her clothes if I did the same.

"I'd had a few glasses of wine so maybe my inhibitions had dropped a bit and I agreed. Straight away after that, the threats began."

"They said 'now I've recorded you. If you don't pay me, I'll put that video all over Facebook and YouTube'."

John said he did not go to police straight away as he felt embarrassed.

He said: "Even now, I have trouble going on to the internet and I can't use Facebook any more. I wake up every morning and what is always in my head is that I don't know if that video still exists or not.

"The police told me that people have committed suicide because of this, I can understand why. You feel destroyed."

Jimmy is in his 20s and from Northern Ireland

He said: "I met her on a well-known dating app and she suggested we move onto another app you can chat on. I got talking away to her for a few days. Then she suggested we exchange photos.

"Some of them got a bit sexy, you know? She asked to see my Facebook profile, she wanted to make friends on there.

"Literally ten minutes after I'd sent her my profile, I got this message: 'What would you do if I sent these photos to your friends and family?' I said to her no, don't do it. And then I asked her what she wanted me to do?'"

He said the woman first asked him to sign up to various webcam websites before demanding money from him.

"It was really stressful and I didn't know what to do. I caved in and sent her £150. She said she wanted £300 but I said no, deactivated my Facebook and went to the police." said Jimmy.

Ronan Hughes, 17, from Clonoe, near Coalisland, Co Tyrone, took his own life in June 2015

His family said the teenager was subjected to a "relentless" campaign of bullying by a Nigerian gang and was duped into posting intimate photos online after receiving pictures of a girl.

He was then blackmailed for £3,000 by criminals who threatened to upload the images to the Facebook pages of his friends.

In October, police investigating the webcam blackmail linked to Ronan's death charged a man in Romania and he was remanded in custody.

The suspect, aged 31, appeared at Bucharest Municipal Court accused of producing and distributing indecent images of children and blackmail, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2016, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) National Crime Agency / PA Wire.