Schools in Wales issued with warning about nudity

International gangs are targeting young people by luring them into potentially compromising positions
International gangs are targeting young people by luring them into potentially compromising positions -Credit:NCA

All schools in Wales have been sent a high alert after the number of teenagers targeted in 'sextortion scams' has doubled in just a year. There have been reports of some young people even taking their own lives after being caught by the scammers, prompting the unprecedented warning from the National Crime Agency.

The crime organisation has been highlighting the "devastating" impact the scams can have on young people - mainly young boys - who are tricked into sending compromising pictures and then blackmailed to pay thousands of pounds.

The number of global cases reported to the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children more than doubled from 10,731 in 2022 to 26,718 in 2023 with a large proportion of victims being boys aged between 14 and 18.

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Nine out of 10 (91%) UK cases dealt with by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in 2023 concerned male victims, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said. Join our WhatsApp news community here for the latest breaking news

They say that the gangs are based in some west African countries and South East Asia who are targeting young people based overseas, many in the Five Eyes countries - the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

The way it work is gang members often pose as another young person, making contact on social media before moving to encrypted messaging apps and encouraging the victim to share intimate images. The criminals work quickly, with some blackmail demands being made within only an hour of first making contact with a young person.

The gangs in this type of crime are motivated by extorting as much money as possible rather than sexual gratification, the NCA said. The BBC spoke to one gang member who made his living from the crime.

Its child exploitation and online protection (CEOP) education team has now issued guidance to teachers about spotting the signs of this type of abuse, supporting young people and encouraging them to seek help. It also includes guidance for parents and carers on how to talk to children about sextortion and how to support them if they become a victim, with the aim of taking away the stigma.

Advice includes not to pay, to stop communication and block the offender, but to avoid deleting anything that could be used as evidence and to report incidents to the police or CEOP.

James Babbage, the NCA's director general for threats, said: "Sextortion causes immeasurable stress and anguish, and we know there are adults and young people who have devastatingly taken their own lives as a result. A lot of victims feel responsible but we need them to know this is absolutely not the case; you are not to blame and help and support is available." Marie Smith, the NCA's head of CEOP education, said falling prey to the scams has a devastating impact on the children's lives and those of their families.

She said of the criminals: "They're extremely malicious, they do not care about that child or that child's life. This is why it's an alert more so than part of our broader education programme because of this callousness that we're seeing, it's extremely dangerous."

Guidance for teachers can be found here.

To get support or report an incident visit here.

Help to get images removed if they have been posted online can be found here.