The deaths of four British men have been linked to extortion and blackmail over private images and videos, police say.

As many as 864 people reported webcam blackmail to the police in the last 12 months, more than double the figure from the previous year. The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the number of “sextortion” cases is also significantly under-reported, with the number of victims likely much higher.

“Sextortion” is the name given to describe a scheme where criminal use fake online identities to befriend victims online, before convincing them to pose nude or perform sexual acts on webcam. The criminals record these images and videos and threaten to publish them online and send them to the victim’s friends and family if they do submit to their demands for payment. It is a form of sexual exploitation and digital blackmail.

The NCA said the victims were generally boys and men, with ages ranging from 14 to 82. The victims were most often men aged between 21 and 30, but a significant number were also boys aged under 18.

Discussing who was behind the rise in “sextortion”, the NCA said:

“We have evidence that organised crime groups – mostly based overseas ­- are behind this crime. For them it’s a low risk way to make money and they can reach many victims easily online. Victims are often worried about reporting these offences to the police because they are embarrassed.”

What to do if you’re a victim of sextortion

If someone threatens to share explicit images of you unless you pay them money:

  1. Dont panic. Contact your local police and internet service provider immedaitely. The police will take your case seriously, will deal with it in confidence and will not judge you for being in this situation.
  2. Don’t communicate further with the criminals. Take screen shots of all your communication. Suspend your Facebook account (but don’t delete it) and use the online reporting process to report the matter to Skype, YouTube etc. to have any video blocked and to set up an alert in case the video resurfaces. Deactivating the Facebook account temporarily rather than shutting it down will mean the data are preserved and will help police to collect evidence. The account can also be reactivated at any time so your online memories are not lost forever. Also, keep an eye on all the accounts which you might have linked in case the criminals try to contact you via one of those.
  3. Don’t pay. Many victims who have paid have continued to get more demands for higher amounts of money. In some cases, even when the demands have been met the offenders will still go on to post the explicit videos. If you have already paid, check to see if the money has been collected. If it has, and if you are able, then make a note of where it was collected from. If it hasn’t, then you can cancel the payment – and the sooner you do that the better.
  4. Preserve evidence. Make a note of all details provided by the offenders, for example; the Skype name (particularly the Skype ID), the Facebook URL; the Western Union or MoneyGram Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN); any photos/videos that were sent, etc. Be aware that the scammer’s Skype name is different to their Skype ID, and it’s the ID details that police will need. To get that, right click on their profile, select ‘View Profile’ and then look for the name shown in blue rather than the one above it in black. It’ll be next to the word ’Skype’ and will have no spaces in it. DO NOT DELETE ANY CORRESPONDENCE.

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