A man has appeared in court in Romania on charges connected to a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) investigation into a “sextortion” blackmail case linked to the death of a 17-year-old boy last year.
The 31-year-old was remanded in custody at Bucharest municipal court after being charged with blackmail and producing and distributing indecent images of children.
County Tyrone schoolboy Ronan Hughes took his own life after being duped into posting images on social networking sites. Hughes death came after a Scottish teenager killed himself after being caught up in a similar scam in 2013. Daniel Perry’s tormentors were found to be members of an organised gang working from the Philippines.
Ronan’s parents said their previously happy child had been tricked into sending compromising images of himself over social media to a girl. His mother said Ronan told her his blackmailers were insisting that he send £3,000 to stop them from distributing the material they held. There days later, he took his own life.
Detective Superintendent Gary Reid, from the PSNI’s Reactive and Organised Crime Branch, commented: “Detectives from the PSNI are currently in Romania assisting our colleagues with this phase of the investigation.
“This has been complex and protracted and we are grateful to our colleagues in our partner agencies for their assistance to date.
“As legal proceedings are now ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.
“However, I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone in Northern Ireland to be mindful of their online activity, particularly with strangers.”
Sextortion scams typically involve either individuals or organised criminal gangs contacting victims via online services such as Skype and FaceTime and tricking them into undressing and performing indecent acts in front of a webcam. The resultant footage recorded by the scammers is then used to blackmail the victim into handing over cash under the threat of posting the film online or distributing it the victim’s friends and family.
Also known as “webcam blackmail”, sextortion scams are often perpetrated by international organised crime gangs that are out of reach of European law enforcement agencies. They typically demand payment in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin as a method of avoiding detection, and have been known to target people of all ages, sexuality and gender.
Various organisations including Interpol and Europol have said that this type of crime is increasing, and have warned web users to be conscious of how they behave when interacting with people they do not know well over the internet. Campaigners have also urged social media users to make sure their privacy settings only allow friends to view their content, so as to avoid potentially sensitive material being stolen.