An international law enforcement group that includes the Toronto police and RCMP is raising an alarm about a global financial sextortion crisis that is specifically impacting minor boys.
"Today, on Safer Internet Day, we are urging youth and caregivers to educate themselves about this crime and help us protect others from being victimized," Toronto police said in a statement to CanIndia News.
"Our agencies have seen a major increase in financial extortion, where minor boys around the world are being coerced into sending explicit images online and extorted for money," the statement read. "On average, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection receives 200 sextortion reports per month through Cybertip.ca, with 87 per cent of sextortion incidents reported affecting boys."
The Toronto Police Service, Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT), Australian Federal Police (Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation [ACCCE]), Canadian Centre for Child Protection, FBI, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (RCMP), New Zealand Police, the Virtual Global Taskforce, the UK's National Crime Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have all joined together to raise public awareness about this crime.
Police say financial sextortion can happen anywhere, although it mainly occurs on digital platforms where children are spending their screen time. Anyone can be victimized through their phones, gaming consoles and computers by way of social media, gaming websites or video chat.
Describing the modus operandi, police said on these platforms, predators often pose as girls of a similar age and use fake accounts to target young boys, deceiving them into sending explicit photos or videos. The predator then threatens to release the compromising materials unless the victim sends payment, however in many cases, the predator will release the images anyway.
Even though financial sextortion is committed virtually, it can have serious impacts offline. After the threats and aggression, victims may feel alone, ashamed, scared, and these feelings can lead to self harm.
Law enforcement around the world wants victims to know they are not in trouble, they are not alone, and there is life after pictures.
"Protecting our youth from financial sextortion is of paramount importance," RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said in the statement. "The RCMP is committed to working with our domestic and international partners to investigate this crime, as well as develop public awareness and prevention campaigns to remove the stigma associated with this online crime and to advocate for victims, ensuring there is life after images."
Police advice on what to do if you are being financially sextorted:
Remember, the predator is to blame, not you or your child.
Stop all communication with the offender.
Do not delete your social media account, messages, or images because these can help law enforcement.
Save a copy of any images you sent, and take screenshots of the messages and the person’s profile including username.
Get help before sending money or more images. Cooperating rarely stops the blackmail and harassment, but police can.
According to an open source analysis by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, of 6,500 first-hand accounts shared publicly on a popular victim support forum, complying with an extorter’s demands generally leads to frequent future demands.
Trust your instincts, practice caution when communicating online.
Reach out to a trusted adult, and report what happened through cybertip.ca or to your local police. By reporting, you can help to keep other youth safer as well.
Trust that there is life after images.
The offender might make you feel like your life is over or ruined, but you are not alone and life will go on after these threats.
“International cooperation has never been more important in tackling the threat of online child sexual abuse," said Robert Jones, Chair,Virtual Global Taskforce. "Whilst we are committed to doing everything we can, the most important reminder of Safer Internet Day is to continue having open conversations about online safety within our communities and especially with the young people in our lives."