Sextortion - If you’ve never met them, are they who they say they are online?
A lot more of us are using online video messaging and webcams to stay in touch. Perhaps even for flirting and romance with people we know.
But if you get a friend request on social media from someone you have never met before, or in an email, be very cautious. Our strong advice is to ignore it and delete it. Sometimes people you meet online aren't who they say they are.
Criminals – very often organised crime groups mostly based overseas - befriend victims online by using a fake identity and then persuade them to perform sexual or otherwise compromising acts in front of their webcam or in-app video messaging.
The video is recorded by the criminals who then threaten to share the images with the victims’ friends and family, blackmailing the victim to pay them money to prevent this happening. More often than not this makes the victims feel extremely ashamed, so they do not seek help and end up paying the criminals. There can be lasting psychological harm from this, as well as financial loss.
Remember these important points:
- Be very careful about who you befriend online, especially if you’re considering sharing anything intimate with them.
- The attractive person in the video chat may have been coerced themselves. A profile photo may be of someone completely different, or not represent a true location for the person. You could perform reverse image search for the profile image and see if it appears elsewhere on the web but in a different context, for instance it might be a stock photo of a model or of a background.
- Even being mindful of the above, it is still best not to share intimate images or sexual acts online even with people you know. Videos can be recorded, images can be saved or have screenshots made from them, and easily published online where they can be shared and copied further. Once images are out there they are very, very difficult to get rid of.
If it’s happened to you, don’t panic. You may naturally feel ashamed or embarrassed but you are the victim. Get help and support.
- Don’t pay up. The criminal may publish the compromising images anyway, or they may come back to you for more money.
- End all communication with the blackmailers.
- Contact the police. You can do that using any of the non-emergency methods here: www.dc.police.uk/contact
- If you’re under 18 years old, speak to an adult you trust immediately. They will support you. You can also get in touch with CEOP (the police Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command) https://www.ceop.police.uk/ceop-reporting