The National Crime Agency (NCA) and National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) have launched a new sextortion awareness-raising campaign after revealing that thousands of people in the UK are likely to fall victim to the webcam-based scams each year.
The NCA’s Anti-Kidnap and Extortion Unit (AKEU) has been informed by local police forces of 864 such cases so far this year alone, more than double the 385 cases reported last year.
However, the belief is that the crime – in which victims are befriended by fake identities online and then persuaded to perform sex acts in front of their webcam before being blackmailed – is significantly under-reported.
At least four suicides in the UK have been linked to sextortion, the NCA claimed.
“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,” said Roy Sinclair, from the NCA’s AKEU.
“This is still a relatively new and emerging crime type, so the NCA and police are working with the Home Office to get a more accurate picture of the true scale. However, the trend is clear. Cases of webcam blackmail – or sextortion – are going up dramatically. As recently as 2012 we were only getting a handful of reports a year, now we’re getting hundreds, and our law enforcement partners across Europe are reporting a similar picture.”
Many of the cybercrime gangs who carry out these attacks are based in the Philippines, Ivory Coast and Morocco, according to the NCA.
Its advice to those caught out in this way is to stay calm; refuse to pay; take screen shots of and note down any communication with the cyber-criminals; request take downs of any videos via YouTube, Skype etc; and deactivate their Facebook account.