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Sextortion alert sent to schools over surge in teen cases – what you need to know

The National Crime Agency has warned cases are on the rise amongst teenagers

Teachers have been alerted to the risk of ‘sextortion’ scams targeting teenagers after a sharp increase in the number of reported cases.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) issued the warning after the number of global sextortion cases reported to the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children more than doubled from 2022 t0 2023.

In the UK, while all age groups and genders are being targeted, a large proportion of cases have involved male victims aged between 14-18, the NCA said. Ninety-one per cent of victims in UK sextortion cases dealt with by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in 2023 were male.

The NCA’s CEOP Education team has issued the alert to try and help teachers recognise and understand sextortion, raise awareness of it, give appropriate messaging to parents and carers and help support victims.

Security Minister Tom Tugendhat has urged parents to talk to their children about their use of social media and technology companies to “take responsibility for the safety of their users by implementing stronger safeguards on their platforms.”

James Babbage, director general for threats at the NCA, described sextortion as a “callous crime”.

“A lot of victims feel responsible but we need them to know this is absolutely not the case; you are not to blame and help and support is available. As well as raising awareness with this alert, we want to encourage young people to report incidents to an adult they trust, the police or to the CEOP Safety Centre.”

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), said: “We want children to know, however, they are not alone, no matter how lonely it feels, that there is a remedy, and a way to take control and fight back. The Report Remove tool we run with Childline is revolutionary and allows you to stop sexual imagery being shared or from going viral online. Please, if you are being targeted this way, reach out. It is not a hopeless situation, and we are here to help you.”

What is sextortion?
Sextortion is where a person is forced to do something, such as pay money or perform a sexual act, after they are threatened with having their intimate details or photographs published.

These crimes are known to be perpetrated by organised crime groups based overseas, predominantly in some West African countries, but some are also known to be located in South East Asia, the NCA has said.

It adds that criminals’ motivations are for making money quickly rather than sexual gratification.

Cases often involve people posing as another young person, contacting the victim on social media before moving to messaging apps and encouraging the victim to share intimate images of themselves. They then threaten to make the images public and demand money or make other financial demands.

How many cases are there?
According to the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, cases more than doubled from 10,731 in 2022 to 26,718 in 2023.

The National Crime Agency said cases of sextortion reported by under 18s increase from 243 in 2020 to 890 in 2022, a 266 per cent increase.

Child victims have reported being:

Contacted by an online account they do not know but which appears to be another child or young person.
Or contacted by a hacked account of a child or young person they do know with messages that feel “unfamiliar”
Engaged in sexually explicit communications which may have involved the offender sharing indecent images first
Been manipulated or pressured into taking nude or semi-nude photos or videos
Told they have been hacked and the offender has access to their images, personal information and contacts, although this may or may not be true
Blackmailed into sending money or another financial reward, such as a pre-paid gift card
What should you do if you are a victim of it?
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP) recommends that those who are targeted should follow these steps:

Don’t pay, do stop contact and block: you may be tempted to pay, but there is no guarantee that this will stop the threats. As the offender’s motive is to get money, once you have shown you can pay, they will likely ask for more and the blackmail may continue. If you have paid, don’t panic but don’t pay anything more. Help your child to stop all communication with the offender and block them on any accounts that they have been contacted on.
Avoid deleting anything: try not to delete anything that could be used as evidence such as messages, images, telephone numbers, and bank account details.
Report to the police or CEOP: call 101 or 999 if there is an immediate risk of harm to your child. Or you can use the CEOP Safety Centre to report any online blackmail attempts.

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