Police have received increased numbers of reports of sextortion – and have urged those who are targeted to continue to tell detectives.
Perpetrators of sextortion are typically organised criminal gangs, usually based abroad, who trawl for victims via social media and dating apps.
Victims – who have been of a wide range of ages – are duped into thinking they are chatting online to someone attractive, and as the conversation develops, the victim’s trust is gained.
The offender asks victims to perform a sexual act via a webcam, and they will entice the victim to do so by showing pre-recorded videos purporting to be doing the same.
However, these acts are recorded – and then used to try to blackmail the victim to pay large sums of money to prevent them being sent to their contacts.
So far in 2018, South Wales Police has received 42 reports of sextortion – the equivalent of five cases a fortnight. In the last four months of 2017, 32 cases were reported to South Wales Police.
In some of these cases, victims have received demands for several thousand pounds.
Tragically, at least five young men across the UK have taken their own lives in recent years after falling victim to sextortion scams.
Detective Chief Inspector Rob Cronick, of the South Wales Police Major Crime Team, said: “Unfortunately we are continuing to see an escalation in this type of crime, which is carried out by criminal gangs across online and social media platforms – whether that’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or Skype, or dating apps including Tinder, Bumble, and Plenty of Fish.
“These crimes often go under-reported, because victims may feel embarrassed. However, we want to let victims know about how they can protect themselves and what they should do if they are targeted.
“If you are a victim of sextortion, please don’t panic, don’t pay, don’t engage further with these criminals, and don’t delete any correspondence. Call police on 101 and we will help you.
“If you have paid, please still report the matter to police and we will provide assistance and support while we investigate the circumstances.”
South Wales Police is urging social media users not to accept friend requests from strangers, to be aware of who they are speaking to online, and to review their privacy settings to protect themselves.
DCI Cronick added: “Crimes such as these usually follow weeks of grooming via social media by criminal gangs who will prey on any vulnerability they can find. After enticing the victim to send indecent or sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves, they then blackmail them to prevent it being released to friends and family.
“These criminal networks are run on a huge scale using sophisticated means, all under the guise of someone looking for romance online. However, their sole intention is to make as much money as they can – with no thought towards the appalling emotional damage inflicted on their victims.
“Our priority to keep people safe. There is no hiding place for these criminals – anywhere. UK police forces work closely with the National Crime Agency and worldwide law enforcement to hunt them down.”