SEXTORTION is becoming one of the fastest rising crimes in Ireland and around the world as advances in technology allow scammers numerous ways to target potential victims.
The scams hit the headlines once again in Ireland this week after a woman said her husband took his own life after falling victim to a so-called webcam blackmail where he was convinced by a person posing as a woman he met online to take part in a sex act on a webcam.
The scammer then said they would post the video via Facebook to friends and family of the victim unless he paid money.
It is believed he paid some cash but the video was uploaded after which he took his own life.
To make it worse, the scammers made false allegations that the victim had been performing the act thinking he was talking to a child.
It is the latest in a string of such incidents both here and abroad.
Last year Ronan Hughes (17) from Tyrone took his own life after he was the victim of a Nigerian blackmail gang who demanded he pay £3,300 or naked images of him would be sent to all his Facebook friends. He thought he was interacting with a woman but was another victim of an organised crime gang.
Daniel Perry (17) from Dunfermline, in Scotland took his own life in 2013, just one hour after being targeted.
In January this year Gardai in Bruff, Co Limerick said they were investigating two reports of blackmail by women that Limerick men met through Facebook.
Inspector Luke Conlon described it as “insidious” and “a totally new phenomenon”.
It is believed thousands of people in this country have been targeted. “It isn’t alone happening here, it is happening around the country. I would say there are an awful lot of incidents not being reported out of embarrassment by the person,” addd Conlon.
Earlier this year a caller to Cork’s RedFM told how he was asked to pay €5,000 to a blackmailer.
The man said the ploy didn’t work on him as he was single and told her he didn’t care if she released the footage.
“She didn’t catch me but she will catch someone. Even if it’s one person, that’s five grand,” he said.
However, many others even if they are single find it difficult to laugh it off when it happens to them.
There are several different ways to get caught up in such scams. Sometimes people target their victims through Facebook but they also use dating apps like Tinder and dating websites such as Match.com.
Scammers go after any target whether they’re male or female, gay or straight, young, middle-aged or old.
The American Association of Retired Persons said they regularly field calls from their members who have exposed themselves in front of webcams and are being blackmailed as a result.
And it isn’t just “vulnerable” people targeted. Highly intelligent people have been reeled in by scammers.
There have been several cases of another type of web scam where people who connect through dating sites are convinced to send over money believing they have fallen for the person of their dreams.
Oxford-educated professor Judith Lathlean, a 67-year-old, went public last year to tell how she paid £140,000 to a man she met on a dating site but never met in person.
English divorcée Suzanne Hardman (inset left), then 56, was defrauded of £170,000 by a man she thought was ‘James Richards’, a widower living in Portsmouth. However,
James was really a gang of Nigerian fraudsters who were later convicted of the scam.
In January conmen Ife Ojo and Olusegun Agbaje were sentenced to three years after they conned a woman out of £1.6m by using a fictional character to contact her on dating website Match.com.
The English victim thought she was corresponding with a man called Christian Anderson and gave him money to help fund a supposed business project.
Police and other agencies in countries across the world have reported an avalanche of complaints about such scams in the past two years.
Other scams involve criminals people to unwittingly launder money for them after thinking they met a potential lover online.
However, the main operators of online romance scams are purely looking for cash.
Wayne May who offers advice on the website scamsurvivors.com said that the website gets around 30 requests a day from victims of webcam extortion looking for help.
He said the obvious advice is not to expose yourself online but he understands some people will inevitably do so and offers this advice if you are targeted.
“Firstly, don’t send any money. We’re already seeing cases of people sending money, only to be told they need to send more.”
“You’re going to have to bite the bullet and admit to people that you were caught by a scammer.”
He also says to do a complete virus check if the scammer sent images to your computer.
“It’s not unknown for people to send a virus to computers hidden in what appears to be an image file that would give them complete access to your computer and all the information held on it.
“Now block them. Block them and don’t take any more friend requests, certainly for a while. Add their email address to your blocked list, add their number to your blocked list, block them from your friends list. Log out of Skype for two weeks. A threat can only be effective if you can read it.
“Block them, but don’t delete your email account or profile. Instead make them invisible to outsiders or people not already on your lists. Scammers will encourage you to close your accounts after the incident as it destroys all evidence of their scam.”
He adds that it’s a good idea to deactivate or delete any accounts the scammer met you on making it impossible for them to find you again.
“Search for your details in case they do post up your video. If they do, write to the site and tell them it needs to be removed.
“Most sites will remove it the moment they’re made aware of it.
“For the others, point out to them that it was posted without your permission, the video was recorded without your knowledge or consent and is part of a blackmail plot against you so needs to be removed.”