Webcam sex pics leads to doubling of ‘sextortion’ blackmail cases in a year
Sextortion, or webcam blackmail, is when criminals use the identities of attractive women – who may have been coerced into these actions themselves – to befriend victims online. They then persuade the victims to perform sexual acts in front of their webcam, record them and then threaten to share images with their friends and family unless they receive payment.
The number of cases reported to police has more than doubled between 2015 and 2016, reaching 1,250 last year. So far this year there have been more than 700 cases.
The National Crime Agency says the true number of sextortion cases could be even higher, as so many go unreported.
“We are keeping this issue on the public radar, first and foremost … making all intelligence packages are collated and gathered together to fully exploit all opportunities to put people before judicial systems,” David Jones, head of the NCA’s anti-kidnap and extortion unit, told the Guardian.
The number of sextortion cases has grown with the use of social media. Experts say young males are particularly vulnerable, with the majority of cases including men between 18 and 24. Some victims have been as young as 14.
The figures come as the man who blackmailed Ronan Hughes, 17, was jailed for four years.
Romanian Iulian Enache, 31, shared intimate photos belonging to Hughes after the schoolboy failed to pay a ransom. The teenager killed himself hours afterwards. Hughes pleaded with his tormentor not to destroy his life by posting the intimate pictures of him on Facebook. He thought he was speaking with a young woman called Emily Magee.
“I’m only 17, please, I’m begging you,” he wrote. Enache replied: “That’s not my problem. Foolishness has a price. And you’ll pay. Do you want to tell your mother or will I? You have 48 hours from now! Time is running out!”
Enache was demanding a payment of £3,000 (around US$3,900) in bitcoin from the teenager, and the threats became more ominous with each passing day. Terrified, Hughes eventually confided in his parents. The family went to the police and was advised to ignore, and not pay, the blackmailer – who eventually followed through on the threat to distribute the images.
This proved too much for Hughes, whose body was found in a field near his home in June 5, 2015, after he learnt that five of his friends had received the images.
Last week, Enache pleaded guilty to charges of blackmail and of producing and distributing indecent images of children.