The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has revealed that four men took their own lives in Britain last year after being targeted in “sextortion” scams.
Britain’s equivalent of the FBI has warned of rising incidents of the crime, which involves organised criminals conning victims into performing sex acts in front of a webcam and recording them. The resultant footage is then used to blackmail the victim, with scammers threatening to distribute images or videos to friends and family.
The gangs behind the crime, which are often based outside the UK, contact potential victims through social media, often using profiles that appear to belong to attractive young women. The majority of victims are aged between 21 and 30, but children as young as 11 have been targeted. Incidents of the crime recorded in the UK have more than doubled from 385 in 2015 to 864 this year.
In response to the increase, the NCA has launched a national awareness campaign designed to warn members of the public about the risks of engaging in sexual acts in front of a webcam in front of people they do not know. The campaign is backed by two videos that have been uploaded to the NCA’s YouTube channel. .
Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead For Kidnap And Extortion and Adult Sexual Offences, said: “The really key point is that as a result of this criminality, we have had four young men in the United Kingdom who have killed themselves – taken their own lives – because they saw no way out of a situation that they had gotten into.
“A public awareness campaign [is] to make not only potential victims, but all those around them – friends of potential victims, family members of potential victims – really raise awareness to what is a very damaging and invidious crime.”
The agency has issued guidance for anybody targeted by sextortion gangs. It says victims should contact police immediately, refuse to make a payment and report the matter to social media platforms used to commit the crime, such as Skype, Facebook or YouTube.
The NCA’s advises victims: “Do not panic, do not pay, do not communicate and preserve evidence.”
In June of last year, a schoolboy from Northern Ireland committed suicide after sextortion scammers demanded he pay them £3,000 after he sent them intimate images of himself. A Romanian man appeared in a Bucharest court last month on charges relating to Ronan Hughes’ death.
A Scottish teenager took his own life after being targeted in a similar scam in August 2013. Daniel Perry’s death was linked with organised criminals operating from the Philippines. The gang was broken up by Interpol as a result of information uncovered by Police Scotland.