Police in Burnaby, British Columbia, have issued a public alert after a spate of sextortion reports this summer.
According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Burnaby, 24 reported incidents of sextortion have occurred since May.
“Sextortion” refers to essentially blackmail in which people use sexual images, messages, and/or videos online to extort victims out of money. Burnaby RCMP described two types of sextortion scenarios that they’re currently seeing.
The first scenario is as follows: a potential victim gets an unsolicited friend request on social media. Then, they exchange messages where the suspect asks to move the convo to a video chat platform. Once on video chat, the victim is asked to undress or masturbate.
“The suspect will then end the session and tell the victim they have a video recording of their conversation,” the RCMP explained.
Then, they’ll threaten to release said video to their friends and family via social media unless they pay them—typically via Bitcoin or money transfer.
The other scenario is similar but opts for an unsolicited email claiming that the person has a pornographic video, threatening to send it to all the victim’s email contacts. In a slightly tweaked version of this scheme, the scammer threatens to expose that the victim visits porn sites.
Taylor Cooper, a sextortion victim from BC who VICE interviewed in 2016, described how getting caught up in a scheme like this affected him. He didn’t end up sending the suspect money.
“It was really crazy. It scared the shit out of me when it first happened. I think it's just people in foreign countries just sitting on computers all day adding people, it's just like fishing—you get a bite once in a while,” Cooper explained. “It's crazy how advanced this has gotten. Even when I saw the girl on webcam taking her shirt off, it must have been a recorded video.”
Because of the nature of sextortion and how victims and those perpetrating the crimes can span between different countries, it’s difficult to catch people who are carrying out these criminal schemes.
“The first debate would be over whose law should apply, and probably the Canadian citizen is going to want Canada's law to apply, but then there would have to be some way to work out whose law should apply if they come into conflict with each other,” Dr. Mary Anne Franks of the University of Miami told VICE previously.
The RCMP has issued guidelines for those find themselves being targeted by a sextortion scheme. They recommend not complying with any threats, stopping all forms of communication with the individual, keeping the correspondence you had with the individual, and reporting it to police.
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