Law enforcement in the US and the UK have reported that a new form of webcam blackmail known as “sextortion” is on the rise. In these cases, criminals find potential victims on social media sites like Facebook, Skype, and LinkedIn, and convince them to expose themselves on webcam by using false identities. Criminals will then threaten to share the photos or videos with the victim's friends and families unless they pay.
The UK's National Crime Agency has reported that the number of sextortion cases have more than doubled, from 385 last year to 864 this year. The agency has also connected four suicides to the crimes in the past year. In the UK, young men aged between 21 and 30 are the primary target of the crime, but a “substantial proportion” of victims are aged between 11 and 20. Many of these crimes have been linked to criminal gangs operating in the Philippines, Morocco, and the Ivory Coast.
In the US, internet-based sextortion crimes began appearing in the news in 2009 and 2010. 71% of American victims of sextortion are under the age of 18, and 91% of these underage victims are manipulated via social media. Only 12% of cases in the US target adults. These cases target women almost exclusively, and generally use hacking to gain access to explicit images.
Law enforcement has found that sextortion crimes in the US are exclusively perpetrated by men, often working alone. In several of these cases, prosecutors have estimated that a single offender had tried to extort over a hundred victims, and in at least two cases, there were “hundreds, if not thousands” of victims. “Predators used to stalk playgrounds,” Brock Nicholson, head of Homeland Security Investigations in Atlanta, Georgia, said. “This is the new playground.”