April 29, 2024

UK issues alert as global sextortion scams doubles

UK issues alert as global sextortion scams doubles

An unprecedented alert on sextortion scams targeting teenagers has been sent out to British teachers after the number of reported cases doubled in a year.

Officials at the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA) issued the warning on Monday, highlighting the “devastating’’ impact the scams can have on young people duped into handing over intimate photos.

Sextortion is blackmail where criminals threaten to release nude or semi-nude photos of someone, either real or fake, unless the victim pays them.

The number of global cases reported to the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children has doubled from 10,731 in 2022 to 26,718 in 2023.

This has been common with a large proportion of victims being boys aged between 14 and 18 years.

Nine out of 10, or 91 per cent, UK cases dealt with in 2023 by the Internet Watch Foundation, a UK-based campaign group, concerned male victims, the NCA said.

Gangs based in some west African countries and South-East Asia were targeting young people overseas, especially in English-speaking countries such as the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

They often posed as another young person, making contact on social media before moving to encrypted messaging apps and encouraging the victim to share intimate images.

The gangs in this type of crime were motivated by extorting as much money as possible rather than sexual gratification, the NCA said.

Its Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) education team on Monday issued guidance to teachers about spotting the signs of this type of abuse, supporting young people and encouraging them to seek help.

It also included guidance for parents and carers on how to talk to children about sextortion and how to support them if they become a victim, with the aim of taking away the stigma.

Advice included not to pay, to stop communication and block the offender, but to avoid deleting anything that could be used as evidence and to report incidents to the police or CEOP.

James Babbage, NCA director-general for threats, said, “Sextortion causes immeasurable stress and anguish; we know there are adults and young people who have devastatingly taken their own lives as a result.

“A lot of victims feel responsible but we need them to know this is absolutely not the case; you are not to blame, and help and support is available.’’

Marie Smith, the NCA head of CEOP education, said falling prey to the scams has a devastating impact on the children’s lives and those of their families.

She said of the criminals, “they’re extremely malicious; they do not care about that child or that child’s life.

“This is why it’s an alert more so than part of our broader education programme because of this callousness that we’re seeing, it’s extremely dangerous.’’

The criminals work quickly, with some blackmail demands being made within only an hour of first making contact with a young person.

Security minister, Tom Tugendhat, said sextortion destroys lives.

“It is often driven by highly sophisticated organised crime groups who exploit vulnerable people for profit.

“It’s vital that technology companies take responsibility for the safety of their users by implementing stronger safeguards on their platforms.

“I will urge parents to talk to their children about their use of social media.

“Even sites that many assume to be safe may pose a risk,’’ he said.