Britain’s crime officials have recorded a threefold increase in past two years in the number of victims of “sextortion”, in which overseas organised crime groups use fake dating profiles to befriend victims and encourage them to livestream sexual acts.
In 2017, 1,304 cases of sextortion were reported to its Anti-Kidnap and Extortion Unit by police forces across the country, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Thursday. The figures show men over 60 are also vulnerable to blackmail.
Victims are often contacted through dating websites and believe they are in a genuine relationship. They are then persuaded to perform sex acts online which the crime groups record and threaten to share with the victim’s friends and family unless they are paid.
The NCA said: “The actual figure of those sextorted is likely to be much higher, with many victims failing to report the crime to the authorities. Sextortion has a devastating impact on victims, with at least five suicides being linked to it.
“Evidence suggests that sextortion is predominately committed by overseas criminal gangs, targeting young males aged 17-25 with an increasing number of British Armed Forces personnel being sextorted,” it added.
The agency warned users of dating websites and apps to be wary of who they befriend and avoid being lured into compromising situations online.
Victims are being urged to come forward and report the crime, with reassurance that they will be taken seriously and treated in confidence. They are advised not to make any payments, to stop all communication with the blackmailer and keep all evidence.
John Branney of NCA said: “Due to the nature of the crime we know there are a huge number of cases that go unreported and that the figures released today are just the tip of the iceberg.The release of these figures aims to highlight sextortion as a growing crime and help potential victims by showing them how they can protect themselves and what to do if they are targeted.
“We want victims to know that they are not alone and urge them to contact the police where they will be treated sensitively and in confidence.”