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Sextortion cases targeting youth are on the rise

The Ottawa Police Service is warning parents, children, and young people about the dangers of texting explicit images on social media platforms and the risk of falling victim to sextortion.

Acting Sergeant Erin McMullan from the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Section says they receive complaints each week, with victims ranging in age from eleven to their early twenties.

“So much of our social activities involve texting, email, and a presence on social media platforms, especially during the global pandemic. Predators are there, looking for victims,” says A/Sgt. McMullan.

Online predators look for victims by first befriending them and then asking for photos. “Once they get photos or videos, they will demand more images, or money, under threat of releasing the original photos to family and friends of the victim.”

According to cybertip.ca, sextortion of youths increased 150% between December 2021 and May 2022.

“This scam works because victims think they are talking to someone their age, living in the same city and of the gender they are attracted to,” says A/Sgt. McMullan, “but the person you are communicating with could in fact be anyone, anywhere in the world.”

To gain the trust of the victim, the online friend may offer to share intimate images too. In some cases, a predator can take control of the victim’s webcam, so they are unaware their device is recording them.

Safety tips for users to prevent sextortion:

  • Limit the amount of personal information you post, to make it difficult for scammers to learn information about you.

  • Set your social media privacy settings to limit who can contact you.

  • Don’t accept unknown friend requests.

  • Cover your webcam when you aren’t using it so you can’t be recorded without your consent.

  • Don’t click on links or download files from unknown sources. Anti-virus software can help filter out potentially dangerous emails.

  • Requests for intimate images of yourself should be a red flag and never send them to any social media platform or electronic device.

Tips for parents:

  • Look for resources on how to keep your child safe online. https://protectchildren.ca/en/ offers good tips.

  • Monitor your child’s online activities, social media profiles and who they are friends with.

  • Talk to them about befriending strangers online and the information they share.

  • Make them aware of online threats like sextortion, fake profiles, and fraud.

  • Let them know they can come to you with questions or problems, and that you can help if something has happened.

If you are the victim of sextortion, A/Sgt. McMullan advises, “don’t try to handle this alone,”

and take these steps:

  • Tell your parent or guardian,

  • Stop all communication with the extortionist,

  • Save all texts, images, and communications – they will be important for the investigation,

  • Contact police,

  • Make a report through Cybertip.ca, and

  • Report the suspect user through the social media platform from which they are contacting you.

A/Sgt. McMullan acknowledges the situation is stressful due to the highly personal nature of the matter, and victims are embarrassed to come forward. “Tell your parents, reach out to police. No one is going to judge you. Chances are that this predator has several victims. With your help, we may be able to find the individual responsible and stop them.”

For more information, resources and support, visit https://protectchildren.ca/en/

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