Commentary

Big Jump In UK Sextortion Cases

Guys, if an attractive woman contacts you online asking for naked pictures, you should probably run screaming in the other direction.

However, British teenagers are no more likely to understand this fact than their American peers, it would seem, fueling a big rise in cases of online “sextortion,” and prompting the British government to call for social media companies to take action against the trend.

According to British police, there have been more than 900 cases of Web cam blackmail in Britain this year, or more than twice the total reported for the country in 2015, and up from just a handful back in 2012, when they began tracking figures for the offense. Police add that the true numbers are probably much higher, since many victims don’t come forward.

The phenomenon has grabbed the country’s attention after the recent suicides of four young men who became caught up in sextortion cases.

In all four cases the victims were persuaded to share explicit images or video of themselves by an attractive woman (or more likely, by foreign organized crime gangs posing as attractive women on social media) and then committed suicide when they were unable to pay the perpetrators’ blackmail demands.

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Scores of other cases have been reported in which victims, the large majority of them young men, have paid blackmail demands ranging from £50 to £500, or around $62 to $620, after sharing explicit photos with an online contact they believed was interested in them romantically.

Given the large proportion of teenagers in the group of British sextortion victims, the UK government is recommending that social media companies be required to prevent underage users from sending sexually explicit images.

This week UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt gave testimony to the House of Commons Health Committee in which he said the responsibility for policing explicit images uploaded by teens may also fall on mobile service providers: “I just ask myself the simple question as to why it is that you can't prevent the texting of sexually explicit images by people under the age of 18, if that's a lock that parents choose to put on a mobile phone contract. Because there is technology that can identify sexually explicit pictures and prevent it being transmitted.”
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