Sussex Police are repeating their warning about ‘sextortion’ and the dangers associated with interacting with someone you don’t know online after more than 100 reports across the county so far this year.

Sextortion is a form of blackmail where a perpetrator threatens to reveal intimate images of the victim online unless they give in to their demands.  These demands are typically for money or further images. 

Many victims are young men, but an older East Sussex resident has spoken out after becoming one of the latest victims.

Mr X, a man in his sixties from Hastings, was contacted by email by someone purporting to be a woman who he had met on a webchat, after they had talked for about eight days.

In March this year, the woman asked him for money so she could get a phone contract, He sent £20 to a mobile number abroad, believing that she lived in Africa. He received an email from her stating that unless he paid she would put the naked photos he had previously sent her via the Internet for all his friends and neighbours to see, and she added, ‘good luck, everyone will know’.

He felt under pressure so told his wife and daughter and despite demands refused to  send any further money.

His refusal worked, as he later learned that the image had been deleted once he made it clear that the police had been told.

However he says he feels foolish and the experience made him feel very low and depressed. He had little money himself and this has caused him extra distress.

He was assigned a fraud caseworker from Victim Support who specialises in providing emotional and practical support to medium and high risk victims of fraud/scams. It is as a result of the support that he now feels strong enough to share his story in the hope it will help prevent others falling victim to this trap.

In the first eight months of 2021, Sussex Police have recorded 106 reports of Sextortion, with a total loss of £14,939. 

92%  of victims were males, and 69% of those were under 29.

60 of the victims were in West Sussex, 32 were in East Sussex and 14 were in Brighton and Hove.

Criminals often befriend victims online by using a fake identity and then persuade them to perform sexual acts in front of their webcam.  They then threaten to share the images with the victims’ friends and family which can make the victims feel embarrassed and ashamed, and prevent them from coming forward to report the incident.

Typically  victims are contacted on social media platforms, mainly Facebook and Instagram. They are then often asked to move to platforms such as Google Hangouts and WhatsApp.

Payments are often made to fraudsters via PayPal, MoneyGram , Western Union, Tap Tap or Gift cards.

PC Bernadette Lawrie, Surrey & Sussex Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer, said: “Sextortion is an awful and exploitative crime, commonly carried out through social media sites.  It causes extreme distress to victims who may feel too embarrassed to come forward and report the incidents. 

“Although it can be committed by individuals, organised crime is commonly behind it. Perpetrators can be located anywhere, with many based overseas. Those viewing, downloading or forwarding any such material are committing further serious criminal offences.

“Please be wary of requests from strangers online and don’t share intimate videos or engage in sexual activity with people you don’t know.

“Anyone who has been the victim of cyber related blackmail is asked to come forward and report it to police online, or by calling 101, or 999 in an emergency.  

Tips to stay safe from sextortion and webcam blackmail include:

  • Do not share intimate videos online;
  • Do not get lured into compromising situations such as removing clothes or performing intimate acts online;
  • Always remember that what goes online may well stay online;
  • Be wary about who you invite or accept invitations from on social networking sites, not accepting friendship requests from strangers;
  • Update the privacy settings on your social networking accounts so only people you know can view your account and your friends;
  • Do not include any sensitive, private or confidential information in profiles;
  • Quickly block nuisance and fraudulent users from further contact with you and also report them for abuse;
  • If you become a victim of this type of scam, do not respond to the blackmailer’s demands, but report the issue to the police and the site being used;
  • If you think that you have already been persuaded by anyone to part with payment details, contact your bank or card issuer immediately.

For more information about Operation Signature, Sussex Police’s campaign to identify and protect vulnerable victims of fraud see the Force website here.