Calgary police are sounding the alarm after dozens of young people, including minors, have been tricked into sending intimate photos followed by threats of extortion, police said Thursday — adding those reports may just be a drop in the bucket.
In the first five months of this year, police received 48 sextortion reports mainly targeting teenage boys.
Sextortion is when a person, operating a fake profile, succeeds in getting nude photos and video from unsuspecting targets and then threatens to share them with the target’s friends unless a ransom is paid.
Police say, however, it gets worse.
“I think it’s very important to note, as well, that we really believe this to be quite underreported,” Staff Sgt. Graeme Smiley of the cyber forensics unit told CBC News in an interview.
“There’s a certain degree of shame that is going to be associated with this. We understand that no one likes to be victimized by way of fraud. Victims do not come forward and tell us this.”
Police say these cases can be a challenge because of the global reach of the internet. The scammer may not be local.
“They are hiding on the other side of the world, so there is absolute merit in trying to prevent these from happening because the lasting impact on people once they have sent intimate images, it’s not something we can control on the internet,” Smiley said.
The education director of an online safety group says sometimes the scammer plays the long game and builds trust over time.
“They go through a process of no longer seeming to be a stranger. By the time the request for an intimate image comes, they no longer feel like a stranger, they feel like someone who can be trusted,” Matthew Johnson of MediaSmarts told CBC News.
But he adds parents and guardians can help.
“Tell your kids that any time anything bad happens to them online, they should come to you. You are not going to freak out, you are not going to take away the device or cut off access to the social network they were using, but you will work together with them to try to find a solution,” he said.
Victims or people who suspect sextortion is going on are asked to call Calgary police at 403-266-1234 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online.