Police have issued advice after receiving an increased number of reports from victims falling foul of a relatively new crime known as ‘sextortion’.
Also referred to as ‘webcam blackmail’, sextortion refers to criminals deceiving webcam users into undressing and performing sexual acts, which are recorded and used to blackmail them to hand over further footage or money, to ensure the recording is not sent to friends and family via social media.
Cleveland Police say that, in many cases, victims will have been encouraged to grant access to private settings on social media accounts prior to the blackmail taking place, allowing unrestricted access to family and friend contact details.
Detective Superintendent Alastair Simpson said: “This type of crime is difficult to detect as very often it emanates from international, organised crime groups making it difficult to capture those responsible and the true numbers involved could be far higher than those reported, due to the embarrassment that can be caused to the victim.
“Recently we have had seven reports of this type of crime whereby victims engage in webchat sites.
"Once they are snared into believing they are acting in a private environment and gain the trust of the perpetrator to take things further, they can quickly become entangled in a situation they find difficult to get out of and the threat of the footage being sent to people they know becomes overwhelming.
“These victims should know they are not alone. Many people locally and nationally have fallen victim to this emerging criminal threat.
"The advice from police is clear – do not pay, do not re-contact the blackmailer, do not attempt to negotiate.
“Payment has not prevented publication in some cases and is likely to lead to further demands.
“Unfortunately, once the footage has been obtained, it is very difficult to prevent publication on the internet if the criminals choose to do this, particularly if overseas criminal gangs are responsible.
“Victims will need to consider preparing their family and friends for publication. Websites such as www.revengepornhelpline.org.uk can offer support and advice to victims and assist with steps that may limit the publication of these images.
“Our best chance to combat this type of crime is to focus on prevention. Young people in particular should be wary of accepting or making friend requests from anyone they don’t know personally in everyday life.
“Whilst this is a new crime, some very old advice remains relevant – if something looks too good to be true, then it probably is.”
Anyone wishing to report such a crime can contact Police on 101.