Owing to growing internet coverage and easy access to technology and mobile devices, criminal activity is increasingly taking place on-line.  One such activity is sextortion.  Significant numbers of adults and teenagers, especially boys, are being targeted in on-line sextortion schemes.  Exact figures are hard to quantify given most schemes go unreported. That is often because of the exploitation of a person’s fear of embarrassment and fear of damage to their and their family/parent’s reputation particularly if the parent is well known publicly, perhaps a celebrity or politician, or of high net worth.

There are generally two methods followed.  A victim may receive an email from a criminal claiming to already have a revealing picture / video of them or evidence they have been visiting adult websites.  They then threaten to share the footage if the victim does not send more pictures or money.

A second approach, is where the victim is duped into believing they are communicating with someone their own age (usually a ‘young girl’) who is interested in a relationship.  Contact is made through a number of platforms such as apps, games, social media, any means to get the young person to share an image.  Again, threats of sharing an image follow unless they share more images or make payments.  Unfortunately, making a payment does not guarantee an end to the ‘sextortion’ and usually more demands are made.  Tragically, young people have taken their own lives after being targeted this way.

It is important to discuss on-line safety, how sextortion crimes occur and preventative measures on social media especially enhancing security settings.  Children should be made aware of how to report any suspicious behaviour regardless of how embarrassing and to be alert to the fact that they do not always know who they are interacting with on-line.  Criminals can pretend to be anyone.  The internet Watch Foundation is a source of helpful information including a podcast highlighting the challenges associated with online abuse including sextortion - Internet Watch Foundation IWF - Eliminating Child Sexual Abuse Online | IWF. The NSPCC also provides lots of helpful advice and information - Keeping children safe online | NSPCC

Organisations working with children whether in education, youth activities, social care or otherwise should be conscious of their responsibilities in ensuring a safe online community and ensure that they have in place appropriate policies and procedures, which are implemented and revised, and that all employees and volunteers are trained in connection with the same.