What is sextortion? How to report crime that is on the rise in the UK after NCA warning

Instagram's new safety tools to combat so-called sextortion and intimate image abuse (Meta)
Instagram's new safety tools to combat so-called sextortion and intimate image abuse (Meta)

Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) has revealed that it has uncovered an alarming increase in cases of financially motivated sexual extortion, including in schools.

The NCA said there had been a global rise in "sextortion" cases, in which people are threatened with the release of compromising photos, either real or fake, if they do not pay to stop them, Reuters has reported.

A rising number of sextortion cases has prompted big tech companies to try and find ways to prevent intimate photos from falling into the wrong hands.

This month, Meta unveiled a new tool to blur images that have been sent to and from under 18s on its platforms Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram if it detects nudity.

"Sextortion is a callous crime. Perpetrators have no concern for victims or the lives that might be destroyed in the process. Their sole motivation is financial gain," James Babbage, director general for threats at the NCA, said in a statement.

He added: "We are asking education professionals to help us raise awareness about this crime type, which is sadly increasing across the world."

What is sextortion?

Sextortion is the practice of recording intimate photos for financial exploitation and coercion, according to the definition given by ITV.

Overseas gangs can seize upon material and use it for financial blackmail or to gain influence.

Sophie Mortimer, Revenge Porn Helpline Manager, told ITV: "It's a huge problem and I'd say that it's getting worse... I think there's a lot of concern that it can really implode somebody's life.

"Unfortunately, we see a lot of people that do pay, and I think that that's quite seductive because, of course, they're being told that if they pay a relatively small amount of money, the images will be deleted and the scammer will go away.

"Our understanding is that these scammers are working from almost like call centres. These are businesses. There's no point in them hanging around with somebody who isn't going to pay that, just move on to the next person.”

She added: "[When speaking to victims] we'll explain the usual pattern of these sorts of scams and encourage people to calm down, just to take a step back from the situation."

How have cases changed?

The number of reports made to the Revenge Porn Helpline has risen by 54 per cent in the past year, according to ITV.

Their review said that nearly 19,000 complaints were made to the service, the only helpline to support those who have been victims of intimate image abuse.

Revenge Porn Helpline said that 93 per cent of the calls around sextortion were from men. Moreover, students have also been pressured into handing over thousands of pounds.

Izzy Petherick, of Revenge Porn Helpline, told ITV: “Very quickly they switch and this kind of horrible threats will come in, he'd been receiving the threats for a few days.

"They then added all of his friends and family into a big group chat. They had actually shared the content into the group chat, which just obviously kind of adds a whole other layer to things."

What to do if you are affected?

The helpline urges those being targeted to ask for help and also not to hand over any more money.

Ms Petherick said: "We hear of that relatively often... Sometimes it can be thousands of pounds, unfortunately. But our advice always remains the same, just don't send any more money. It's never too late to stop."