UK Sextortion Cases Doubled in 2021

Sextortion cases in the UK doubled in 2021 compared to 2020, new figures have shown.

The UK’s Revenge Porn Helpline revealed it received 1124 reports of sextortion last year, which compares to 593 in 2020. Nearly nine in 10 (88%) cases involved a male victim.

In addition, the number of reports of all types of intimate image abuse surged by 40% in 2021, from 3146 to 4406. This is now six times the number reported in 2016.

Sextortion occurs when intimate images or videos are captured during an online sexual exchange, and the victim is subsequently blackmailed with threats to share them, often with friends and family.

The helpline, which the UK government launched in 2015 to help tackle the issue of people sharing intimate images online, said it believes these reports are a fraction of the real number of sextortion cases because of the “huge amount of shame” around falling prey to scammers.

Interestingly, in 80% of cases, the perpetrator was a criminal gang, with 11% involving a current or former partner. The helpline noted that the threats “are very real, but the content is rarely released.”

Of the victims who did have their image released, four-fifths (79%) were women.

Worryingly, the report added that around two-thirds (65%) of victims who made reports to police said they received a negative response. In addition, a third of cases were dropped by victims for reasons like lack of anonymity and trust in police.

Commenting on the findings, Jake Moore, global cyber security advisor at ESET, said: “Hackers will use intimate images to extort, and will often go to extreme lengths. But unfortunately, paying a ransom immediately to the attackers often just announces that you are willing to pay any amount necessary to prevent the images being shared online. This simply picks those out who are willing to react, and they will be repeatedly targeted until the money dries up.

“As technology enables attackers to remain anonymous, there is often little the police can do, but any sextortion demand must be reported immediately to help tackle this growing problem.

“Although not often thought about until after the fact, people must think clearly as to whom they are sending private images to and only share images with people they fully trust. They must try to keep an open mind about what could happen with an image should it leave their phone and get into the wrong hands.”

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