There’s been a huge rise in so-called “sextortion” in which criminals lure victims into sending them explicit photos or footage of themselves before blackmailing them for money under threat of exposure. One such victim from Northern Ireland has told his story in an attempt to warn others about the dangers of “sextortion.” So far, more than 100 cases of webcam blackmail have been reported to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, leading them to warn that, “cyber-stalking is becoming a prevalent issue in Northern Ireland."
Speaking anonymously to the BBC, “Jimmy,” in his 20s, said that he exchanged explicit pictures with a woman he met on a dating app, only to find within 10 minutes she was asking him for money.
"She started sending me photos of my family from my social media contacts, saying she would send the pictures to them.
"It was really stressful and I didn't know what to do. I caved in and sent her £150 ($190). She said she wanted £300, but I said no, deactivated my social media account and went to the police.
"I was so worried about what my friends and family would think. I've spoken to my mum about it, that was tough enough, but I still can't talk to anyone else."
Last year Ronan Hughes, a 17-year-old schoolboy from Co Tyrone, took his own life after a Nigerian gang shared explicit pictures of the teenager with his Facebook friends after failing to receive a £3,000 ($3,800) extortion payment.
His parents slammed the response of local police, describing their initial response as “totally dismissive” and said they did not hear from the police for several days after visiting the next day.
Since then a further three victims of the crime in the United Kingdom have committed suicide in what police have called, a “really worrying, emerging new threat.”
In total there have been over 800 cases of the crime reported to British authorities this year alone – more than double the figure for the whole of 2015 – although authorities believe it is still a massively underreported crime.
With this in mind Martin Hewitt, the National Police Chiefs' Council Lead for Kidnap and Extortion and Adult Sexual Offences, said that British police are stepping up to the challenge. "Firstly, we are providing information to police forces to better equip them to deal with these crimes when they are reported.
"Perhaps more important is a public awareness campaign 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.”
From this week onwards a video from the Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) featuring a young blackmailer called, “Jess” will be broadcast across social media platforms
And for those who find themselves victims of “sextortion” the NCA’s advice is clear: "Do not panic, do not pay, do not communicate and preserve evidence."