The United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA) found that webcam blackmail cases have doubled since 2015.
According to BBC News, the NCA tracked 864 reported cases of webcam blackmail up to November 2016. That’s more than double the 385 instances it recorded in 2015.
Police chalk up the increase to sextortion, a type of blackmail which targets mainly boys and young men.
Sextortion begins when an attacker adopts a fake identity and invites a user to a webcam chat. The bad actor asks the user to perform sexual acts with their webcam turned on. If the user complies, the attacker records the video and threatens to share the footage with the victim’s friends and family unless they agree to a payment.
The NCA found that approximately 95 percent of sextortion victims were male ranging in age from 11 to 82. Most victims were aged between 21 and 30.
Sextortion’s impact on victims is multifaceted. On the one hand, victims could suffer a financial burden if they agree to the payment. Some extortionists ask for as much as 5,000 euros, a high demand which is enough to set the most ordinary of users back a few months in rent, grocery bills, and/or other expenses.
On the other hand, victims who choose not to pay must come to terms with the humiliation of the attackers possibly contacting their loved ones.
For some, it’s too much. Four men in the UK committed suicide as a result of sextortion, including 17-year-old Ronan Hughes.
The weight of these tragedies has not been lost on Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, who heads the NPCC’s division for kidnap, extortion, and adult sexual offences. As he told BBC News:
“The really key point is that as a result of this criminality, we have had four young men in the UK who have killed themselves – taken their own lives – because they saw no way out of a situation that they had gotten into.
“This is organised crime. Whilst the individual cases themselves may involve relatively limited amounts of money, this is being organised by well-equipped, often off-shore organised crime groups that are facilitating this activity.”
If a sextortionist has victimized you, contact the NCA or the FBI and file a case with them.
Most importantly, don’t feel that you’re alone. Others have had the same experience. Sometimes it helps talking through what happened with a therapist or with fellow victims of sextortion.