Social media users are being warned to remain vigilant to potential ‘sextortion’ blackmail attempts.
Nottinghamshire Police has received a spate of reports in recent weeks following threats to post intimate videos or faked photographs of victims online.
'Sextortion' refers to cyber-enabled crime where victims are lured into performing sexual or intimate acts, which are then recorded by the offenders.
Those targeting them then threaten to make the footage public or share it with the victims' families unless they pay them.
In other instances, offenders threaten to mock-up intimate pictures of victims using photos taken from online.
Nottinghamshire Police received 15 reports of sextortion attempts in April 2023 alone, involving male and female victims aged 14-59.
Detectives fear the actual number of cases is far higher as some victims may feel too embarrassed to report it, or end up paying the demanded sum.
Last month, a teenager in the Nottingham area sent a sexualised video to someone he believed to be a genuine person and was left feeling panicked and scared when the blackmailer demanded £5,000. When the 18-year-old said he didn’t have that kind of money, the video was sent to a close family member and friends.
In another Nottingham case, an intimate image was sent to a victim’s mother and she called the police. Other victims have found out after friends contacted them to say they’d received images, leaving the victims mortified.
One blackmailer told a student he would send an image to his followers on Instagram unless he paid £600. The student deactivated his Instagram account so instead the blackmailer sent the image to his university’s Instagram account, causing him distress.
Meanwhile, a man in his 40s was targeted after a blackmailer hacked into his Facebook Messenger account and found intimate images he’d received from his girlfriend.
Inspector Matthew Basford, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: “Incidents of this kind have been extremely distressing for victims. As such, we are investigating every case with a view to bringing offenders to justice.
“Cases of sexual extortion are sadly taking place around the country, but, following a series of reports in Nottinghamshire, we are taking this opportunity to remind people of ways they can prevent themselves falling victim.
“I would also encourage parents to speak to their teenage children to ensure they are aware of the risks and take steps to protect themselves, such as ensuring their security settings on social media accounts are up-to-date.
“Any victims of unreported offences should contact police. Officers take reports of this kind seriously and each case will be dealt with in confidence with no judgement made.”
How to avoid becoming a victim:
Be very careful about who you befriend online, especially if you’re considering sharing anything intimate with them.
Update your security settings so strangers cannot access your contacts list. Also adopt a strong password to make it harder for criminals to hack your account and access private messages.
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 a 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.
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 difficult to get rid of.
If it's happened to you, don't panic. You may naturally feel ashamed or embarrassed, but remember, you are the victim of organised criminals, you are not alone, and confidential support is available.
Don't pay up. The criminal may publish the compromising images anyway, or they may come back to you for more money.
Screenshot any usernames, email, contact details or other information that relate to the suspect.
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) at www.ceop.police.uk/ceop-reporting