Cruel 'sextortion' blackmailers targeting kids and young men over naked pictures

DI Chris Berryman and Inspector Dan Evans from Nottinghamshire Police
-Credit: (Image: Nottingham Post)

Hundreds of young men across Nottinghamshire have been handing over thousands of pounds to online criminals threatening to share naked pictures of them. Nottinghamshire Police says cases of "sextortion" have increased more than six-fold over the last few years - from 80 reports in 2019 to 547 in 2023.

This year, there have already been more than 100 reports of the crime - which often begins when criminals follow a young person's social media account and pretend to be young and attractive women. Striking up an online conversation with their victims, the criminals will eventually encourage the person to share an intimate picture.

If this happens, the criminals immediately use this material against them, threatening to send it to family and friends unless money is handed over. The conversations can last for days before they take a dark turn and sums of up to £5,000 are demanded.

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One victim, a university student, was left without any money to pay his rent after handing money over. Other victims have described sleepless nights months after being targeted, with an intimate image being sent to the teenage victim's mum in one case.

Nottinghamshire Police says most victims are male, usually between the ages of 14 up to early 20s. The force is launching a campaign today (Monday, June 3), sending hundreds of posters to licenced venues across Nottinghamshire to urge young men to look out for the signs.

Detective Inspector Chris Berryman, whose team investigates sextortion cases, said: "The main difficulty is that a lot of the people who are committing these crimes are based outside of the UK, which makes it very difficult for us to investigate the crimes. Our laws are for the UK, they don't take us to countries in different continents.

"From a logistical perspective, it's quite difficult for us to go to the Philippines or Tunisia or Morocco to go and investigate those crimes. Even though most of the offenders are outside the UK, we still investigate them fully. We have to confirm where the demands are made and what bank accounts are used and we look at where the accounts originate from.

"We need to try and educate people to stop them becoming the victim of crime rather than us then going and investigating the crime. If we can stop people being a victim of these crimes, then that would help massively."

Although the vast majority of victims are male, women have also been targeted.

Katie, not her real name, aged 18, went through an eight-month ordeal before she finally contacted the police. She said: "In total I believe I have sent them around £1,000. The last message I received was in March this year but I have not been responding since I reported this to the police.

"The whole incident has affected me quite a lot mentally. It has given me sleepless nights where I cried myself to sleep. I have been OK in my day-to-day life but whenever I received a message from them it worried me for the rest of the day.

"The thought of the content being released worries me, as I would worry how friends and family would react to it if they found out. I would almost feel like a disappointment. I feel like I would have to lock myself away."

Despite the increase in reports, police say the crimewave could be even larger given that some victims will feel too embarrassed to come forward. Inspector Dan Evans, who works in public protection for the force, said nobody should feel that they will be judged by officers when coming forward.

Despite the sophistication of the online criminals, police recently arrested a 24-year-old man believed to be behind a sextortion scam where a Nottingham victim was targeted. Officers made the arrest in Hampshire and the arrested man has been released on bail.

Advice from police includes reviewing privacy settings, never sharing sexual images if people feel under pressure to do so and ending conversations quickly if people become uncomfortable. Inspector Evans added: "These criminals are relentless. They continue to make demands and they'll continue to offend against other people as well.

"It's never too late and, in telling police, you're going to help us to help you as a victim to get support and also prevent further victims being exploited. I can see why someone might think that, in paying, all this will go away and come to an end, but it won't end, so our advice is don't respond to the demands because they will not go."