Sharing pictures, chatting with friends, and sparking new online romances are all normal parts of modern life that we have grown used to. The online world can be a great way to expand your social circle, meet a new partner, or even have a cheeky ‘no strings’ encounter.
However, online dating does come with a big warning sign: not everyone is who they say they are. Some of us might have watched MTV’s ‘Catfish: The TV Show’ and now put on our detective hats every time we meet someone, but for those of us more trusting, this may not be second nature.
Sextortion, or ‘webcam blackmail’ is, unfortunately, a common crime we see daily on the Helpline. Sextortion scams are often run by organised crime gangs operating from a call centre-like environment, exploiting several people at once for financial gain. They will usually encourage you to have some sexual fun by sharing pictures or partaking in an intimate video call, before starting to blackmail you with these pictures or videos.
You’re scrolling through Instagram. *Ping*, a follow request from a VERY attractive person. Accept. They ‘like’ your most recent post, you ‘like’ one of theirs in return, next thing you know they have slid into your dm’s with a ‘hey xx’.
You start chatting, you’re discussing where you’re both from, what you do in your free time, whether you’re a cat or dog person. They suggest sharing some naughty pics on Snapchat or video chatting on Google Hangouts, things get exciting and with encouragement from them, you let loose (literally).
All of a sudden, the fun stops and the blackmail threats start. Send them £500 or they’ll release the video on social media, to all your friends and family. They apply as much pressure as possible, sending constant messages, calling, screenshotting your friends list to show you who they’ll share the content with. It feels never ending – threats and demands for more money will continue again and again.
Obviously, not everyone you meet online is going to turn out like this, in fact, around 30% of relationships start online, and there are lots of Tinderellas and Tinderfellas living APPily ever after!
So, what should you look out for when chatting with people online to avoid a potentially dangerous situation?
• Check their social media profiles, does it look realistic?
• How many friends do they have?
• Are there not many posts, or generic posts that lack reality?
• How quickly are things moving?
• Have they asked you to swiftly begin communicating on a different end-to-end encrypted platform, for instance, Snapchat or WhatsApp?
What can you do if you get blackmailed?
You are not alone, you’ve done nothing wrong, and you deserve support. Try to keep calm and follow the advice from the Revenge Porn Helpline.
• Don’t panic and stay calm.
• Do not pay any money they might request; they’ll only ask for more.
• Report the profile.
• Block and stop ALL communication.
• Get in touch with the Revenge Porn Helpline for more advice
• If the threats are to share the image/video on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or Bumble, and you meet the criteria below, StopNCII.org can digitally hash intimate images/videos to prevent them from being shared publicly on these sites. This will not prevent content from being shared over private messages, such as Instagram direct messenger. You can find out more and submit your case here.
Most importantly, look after yourself – it’s been stressful. Reach out to those you trust for support and remember that this is a very common type of online crime, so you are not alone in your experiences.
You could also get in touch with The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), they support men struggling with their mental health. You can call their helpline every day between 5pm-midnight at 0800 585858, or visit their website here. You can find other emotional support service recommendations on our website.