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NCA issues urgent warning about ‘sextortion’

The National Crime Agency has issued an alert to hundreds of thousands of education professionals following a considerable increase in global cases of financially motivated sexual extortion – a type of online blackmail widely known as ‘sextortion’.

Sextortion involves people being forced into paying money or meeting another financial demand, after an offender has threatened to release nude or semi-nude photos of them. This could be a real photo taken by the victim, or a fake image created of them by the offender.

Specialists from the NCA’s CEOP Education team have produced the alert, which was issued to teachers across the UK today (Monday 29 April).

It gives advice about spotting the signs of this type of abuse, supporting young people and encouraging them to seek help. It also includes guidance to be disseminated to parents and carers on how to talk to their child about sextortion, and how to support them if they become a victim – aiming to take away the stigma surrounding the topic and, in turn, power away from those who wish to harm them.

The unprecedented warning comes after the number of global sextortion cases reported to the US National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) more than doubled in 2023, rising to 26,718 compared to 10,731 the year before.

All age groups and genders are being targeted, but a large proportion of cases have involved male victims aged between 14-18. Ninety one per cent of victims in UK sextortion cases dealt with by the Internet Watch Foundation in 2023 were male.

These crimes can be perpetrated by organised crime groups based overseas, predominantly in some West African countries, but some are also known to be located in South East Asia.

They are motivated by making money quickly, rather than by sexual gratification, and in some cases have gone from initial contact to blackmailing their victim in under an hour.

Child victims have reported being:

  • contacted by an online account that they do not know but appears to be another child or young person. They may also be contacted by a hacked account of a child or young person they do know, but the communication feels unfamiliar;
  • quickly engaged in sexually explicit communications, which may include the offender sharing an indecent image first;
  • manipulated or pressured into taking nude or semi-nude photos or videos;
  • told they have been hacked and the offender has access to their images, personal information and contacts (whether this is true or not);
  • blackmailed into sending money or meeting another financial demand (such as purchasing a pre-paid gift card) after sharing an image or video, or the offender sharing hacked or digitally manipulated/AI-generated images of their victim and making the threat of sharing them wider.

Click here for the full press release


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