A young Northern Ireland man has told how he was blackmailed by cyber criminals who threatened to share compromising footage of him online.
e was duped into posing naked on camera and then warned that unless he handed over hundreds of pounds, the video would be sent to his Facebook friends.
The man was speaking out as the PSNI revealed a rise in sextortion cases here.
Sextortion is a form of blackmail where a criminal threatens to reveal intimate images of the victim online unless they give in to their demands — typically for money or further intimate images.
The victim, a 21-year-old who wanted to remain anonymous, said he wants to protect others from being duped online by criminals demanding money.
His “nightmare experience” started after he accepted a random ‘Friend’ request on Facebook from what turned out to be a fake profile that tricked him into thinking it was someone he may have known.
Those behind the profile bombarded him with messages and video calls.
“When I answered the video call, I could see a woman on a bed who started to strip down,” he said. “There was never any audio, just messages being sent, and I could see a naked woman on a bed.”
The victim was then asked to strip himself and to show his face, which he did. “You get excited and I thought, ‘why not?’”
“Literally, seconds later, they had my face on camera and sent a screenshot of that and a video of me doing what I did. All the proof they needed, they had it. I went into severe panic mode then and they said if I didn’t send them £500 they would send it (the video) to my Facebook friends,” he said.
“They also had all my contacts and they created a group chat of my family and threatened to send it to them. Obviously, the people who are closest to you, you don’t want them to see that type of thing. They caught me off guard completely.
“I was mortified and really embarrassed, just severe anxiety came all over me. Like I was shaking.”
He explained to his mother what happened and she encouraged him to report it.
“You either risk it and let them send it out, or give them the money. For me, telling someone else, especially someone so close to me, meant I had support and someone could help me through it,” he said.
He said no-one believes sextortion will happen to them but it is very common.
“The severe anxiety was paralysing, it was really bad, and I can only imagine how bad it would have been if I didn’t do something about it straight away. You have to act fast because the longer you leave it, the worse it’ll get.”
Nothing came from the cyber threats and police advised him what to do to protect himself online, he said. “All that worry was for nothing. It was just for money and they didn’t get the money so they moved on to the next victim,” he said. “The best thing is not to worry. You don’t have control of what just happened.”
Detective Inspector Anthony Kelly, from the Criminal Investigation Branch of the PSNI said they are aware there has been a rise in such incidents recently.
“I would like to reassure anyone who finds themselves in this position that police are committed to fully investigating reports of online sextortion when it is reported to us,” he said.
Sextortion victims need to report what’s happened and shouldn’t let embarrassment prevent them from doing so, he added.
“Perpetrators can be located anywhere, targeting a number of people, targeting victims through dating apps, social media or webcams. Many are based overseas. For the criminal, this is a low risk way to make money and they can reach many victims easily online.”
These types of crimes are under-reported and often, the victim pays money rather than contact police, he said.
“We urge anyone who has been the victim of cyber-related blackmail to come forward and report it to police on 101 or 999 in an emergency as we can help you.”
He appealed to the public not to share intimate videos online or get lured into situations where clothes are removed or intimate acts are performed and to be wary of accepting invitations from strangers on social networking sites.
The PSNI have also advised to use online dating sites that conceal both parties’ true email addresses or set up an email account without your real name.
Further advice can be found on the Get Safe Online website at https://www.getsafeonline.org or https://www.psni.police.uk/advice_information/sextortion/.