Known as “sextortion”, the scheme involves cybercriminals posing as young people on social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram to dupe the teens into sharing the sensitive content.
Watch more on a teen who took his life after being targeted by ‘sextortionists’ in the video above
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Consumer Protection and WA Police are raising the alarm after an increase in reports of teenagers and young people being targeted in the scams.
It comes as SA Police last month issued a warning that victims as young as 16 were being targeted through random friend requests on social media.
Then come the threats to post the intimate images on the internet and send them to people in the victim’s life unless money is paid.
So far this year, Consumer Protection WA has received 15 “sextortion” reports with six victims losing a total of $2000. This is up from 47 reports, with three victims losing $1600 last year.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Gary Newcombe said, apart from the monetary losses, those targeted suffer great emotional distress.
“The threat to have intimate images exposed publicly has a devastating impact on all of those targeted, even those who don’t pay, but younger people are particularly vulnerable,” Newcombe said.
“The ruthless scammers put their victims in a highly embarrassing situation, being made to believe that their lives could be ruined if the images are posted or shared on social media, or sent to family, friends, partners or work colleagues.”
In the US, dozens of these cases have ended with the victims taking their own lives, NBC reports.
‘He was absolutely terrified’
For 17-year-old Ryan Last, the “sextortion” scam had the worst possible ending.
Last received a message on a school night in February from someone he believed to be a girl. Hours later, the straight-A student had taken his life.
“Somebody reached out to him pretending to be a girl, and they started a conversation,” mum Pauline Stuart said.
The online conversation quickly grew intimate, and then turned criminal.
Taking advantage of Ryan’s trust, the scammer – posing as a young girl – sent Ryan a nude photo and asked him to share one of his own in return.
Then the threats started flooding in. The cybercriminal demanded $5000, warning he would make to the photo public and send it to Ryan’s family and friends if he did not comply.
The Californian teen said he couldn’t front the cost and the scammer lowered the demand to a fraction of the original figure – $150.
But one payment was not enough to keep them at bay.
“They kept demanding more and more and putting lots of continued pressure on him,” Stuart said.
“He really, truly thought in that time that there wasn’t a way to get by if those pictures were actually posted online. His (goodbye) note showed he was absolutely terrified. No child should have to be that scared.”
Police investigations suggest the majority of the offenders are based overseas.
Detective Senior Sergeant Dave Palmer said the victims who are being befriended through social media messaging platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram are mostly males.
“It’s important that parents continue to discuss cyber safety with their children and ensure proper parental controls are in place.
“If people are contacted online by unknown or unwanted users, they are encouraged to report the account username to the respective social media platforms and block the user.”
Those who might be targeted are encouraged to:
- Never send money. The scammers will come back for more.
- Avoid sending intimate images and videos online.
- Report the criminal offences to authorities via cyber.gov.au and eSafety Commissioner and Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
- Speak to a trusted adult for support.
– With CNN