Officers have issued a warning after seeing a huge 153 per cent rise in reports of ‘sextortion’ scams across County Durham.
Durham Constabulary is urging people to be aware of the dangers of sextortion – a form of blackmail in which scammers trick victims into sharing intimate and explicit images of themselves. Scammers then threaten to share these images or recordings online, or with the victim’s family and friends, unless their demands for money are met.
The force is warning people to be wary when talking to people online, following a stark rise in the number of sextortion incidents being reported to Durham Constabulary over recent years. In 2020, 53 incidents were reported to the force, compared with 134 in 2021 – an increase of 153 per cent.
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Overwhelming, the majority of reports were from male victims ranging from 13 to 81 years old , with the most targeted group being men aged 18 to 25. Sextortion scams can be committed by individuals, but sophisticated organised crime groups are usually behind them, with perpetrators often targeting people through dating apps, social media, webcams, or pornography sites.
They use fake identities to befriend victims online, often posing as an attractive person who is sexually interested in the victim or by claiming to be a friend-of-a-friend, or other acquaintance, before luring them in further with compliments, flattery, and sometimes gifts and rewards.
Detective Inspector Neil Fuller, from Durham Constabulary, said: “Not everyone you meet online is who they say they are – sometimes behind the fake and attractive persona, there’s a criminal trying to make easy money.
“These people are often part of sophisticated and organised crime groups who extort their victims by threatening to share explicit and intimate images and recordings unless their demands for money are met. Innocent victims are left feeling distressed, humiliated and often out of pocket if they pay up.
“We’re urging people to be aware of these scammers when using social media and dating websites – if people are being pressured to move the conversation onto another platform very quickly, or are being pushed into sending explicit images, then alarm bells should be ringing.”
To avoid falling victim to sextortion, do the following:
- Set all your social media accounts to private.
- Do not send compromising or explicit images of yourself to anyone.
- On social media or dating platforms, be wary of users who try to move the conversation to another platform very quickly.
- Be wary of new online connections who send you unsolicited sexual images that they claim are pictures of themselves. Criminals often use this tactic to guide the conversation in a sexual direction and lower the victim’s guard.
What to do if you’ve been targeted:
- Don’t panic, help and support is available.
- Don’t pay.
- Save the evidence: Take screenshots. Save messages and images. Collect URL links to where the information is being shared online.
- Report it to social media companies if communication happened on these channels. For example, Facebook or Instagram.
- Report it to your internet service provider.
- Block all communication with the person targeting you.
- Most social media sites have rules against sharing intimate content without consent. You should be able to get the material removed.
The force said it understands that it might be difficult to report this type of crime to us but said officers are here to listen and to support you in any way we can.
You can report intimate image abuse to Durham Constabulary by calling 101, or by reporting it online through the 101 Live Chat www.durham.police.uk/Report-It/101-Live-Chat/101-Live-Chat.aspx
For more information and advice, visit: www.durham.police.uk/Advice-Centre/Online-Safety/Sextortion.aspx