GARDAÍ in Cork have warned people about the dangers of so-called ‘sextortian’ scams after a Cork teenager was threatened with blackmail after sharing intimate pictures online.
he warning has come after the teenager struck up an online relationship with someone he believed was female and was persuaded to share intimate photographs with them.
However, the scammer subsequently attempted to extort €500 from the young man, threatening to share the images online with his family and friends if he did not hand over the money.
Fermoy-based community Garda Sergeant John Kelly said that, in this particular case, the young man wasted no time in informing Gardaí about the incident.
“This kind of scam has the very real potential to devastate lives. People may recall a similar incident a number of years ago in the North that ended in very tragic circumstances,” said Sgt Kelly.
“Thankfully, in this instance, the man came to us straight away and we were able to offer him advice and launch an investigation,” he added.
Sgt Kelly said that often it is the case that there can be a certain naivety, particularly among young people, when it comes to sharing intimate images online.
“What some young people do not realise is that the person requesting these photographs could easily be a 40-year-old man grooming them. Or, as in this particular case, some unscrupulous individual trying to blackmail them into handing over money,” said Sgt Kelly.
“People may ask why we are once again warning people about this kind of scam. The fact is that there are always young people using smart phones and other digital devices for the first time and it is all too easy for them to be held to ransom for making a naive mistake,” he added.
Sgt Kelly urged anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation not to hand over money and report to report it immediately to Gardaí.
“We understand that people might be embarrassed. However, we are completely non-judgemental, so don’t bottle it up and hope that it will go away,” said Sgt Kelly.
“Simply handing over cash does not mean that the scammer may not try to extort more money. The most important thing for us is that people do not fall victim to this kind of thing and have their lives ruined,” he added.
Sgt Kelly said it was vitally important that parents make their children aware of this kind of scams and about the safe use of smart phones and other technology with online access.
On another, not entirely unrelated topic, Sgt Kelly also warned people about the dangers of so-called ‘romance fraud’, citing one example of an elderly man who was conned out of more than €20,000 by someone he made contact with through an online dating website.
He said the scam broadly falls into two categories, one targeting younger people though their social media profiles and the other targeting older people through dating websites.
“In the first instance a person will befriend their victim, often using a stock image from the internet for their profile. Over a period of time they will groom the victim to gain their trust and then request they send them on explicit images,” said Sgt Kelly.
He said the victim will then be sent a message saying the other person has access to their contacts and will send the images to them all as well as post them up on social media unless they pay over a sum of money.
“Another method of extorting money is the scammer will say they need a significant amount money to treat a sick relative, typically a child, and will pay it back. In other instances, the victim can be lured with the false promise of a romantic life together with the perpetrator” said Sgt Kelly.
“The best advice we can give is that people do not, under any circumstances, share personal information or images with people they have met online. These scammers are like fishermen sitting on the riverbank patiently waiting to catch their prey,” he added.
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