Parents are being urged to keep a closer eye on their children’s online activity as police investigate a disturbing trend of sextortion targeting teen boys and young men in Victoria.
In sextortion cases, cybercriminals often posing as teenage girls or young women request intimate photos or videos from their victims and then threaten to share them with the victim’s friends, family or community unless they are paid money.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection reported a 92 per cent increase in sextortion cases involving young men last year.
Twenty-seven cases of extortion were reported to Victoria Police in 2022 alone, with cases involving teens and young men in both Victoria and Esquimalt seen in “rising, significant numbers.”
Sextortion – online sexual extortion – is targeting #yyj teen boys & young men. 2/3rds of 2022 investigations saw cybercriminals target boys & young men – part of a disturbing national trend. https://t.co/l9UTh4sdup
Pls, talk with your teens.
Here's what they need to hear 👇 pic.twitter.com/Vc9wnoyeH2
— Victoria Police (@vicpdcanada) January 23, 2023
According to police data, nearly 60 per cent of all reported sextortion cases last year involved males, with Victoria Police Department adding that many more cases likely go unreported.
“It is organized cyber criminals who are now branching out and targeting teen boys and young men and the goal isn’t sexual it’s cash, they’re after money,” said VicPD spokesperson Bowen Osoko.
Chief Del Manak warned that the psychological and social impacts of sextortion can be significant and encouraged victims to speak to a trusted adult or contact police.
READ MORE: Advocates, police warn online ‘sextortion’ of youth is on the rise in Canada
“Sextortion is a crime,” Manak said in a news release. “I know it can feel awkward or uncomfortable, but talking to a trusted adult, whether a parent, teacher or a VicPD officer about what you’re experiencing can be the first step in stopping it.”
VicPD’s warning about the surge in sextortion cases follows a similar warning from BC RCMP earlier this month. The RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Crime Centre received a total of 52,306 complaints of the crime for the year 2020-21, a 510 per cent increase from seven years earlier.
Authorities say sextortion suspects use techniques to protect their identities and they do not always live in Canada, making the crime difficult to investigate and prosecute.
Parents and caregivers are advised to talk to their children about staying safe online from those engage in sextortion, criminals police describe as “skilled at deception and manipulation.”
If a child has been victimized, they should talk to a trusted adult and understand that police take the crime seriously and will not judge victims.
For Brandon Laur, who helps teach internet safety to youth around the world, the jump in cases doesn’t come as a surprise.
“Since January 2020 we have assisted 133 teens dealing with similar situations,” said Laur, CEO of The White Hatter.
Laur says typically a suspect will approach the victim on an online platform or social media site and build up a relationship.
With modern technology he says the suspects, often from other parts of the world, can even disguise their faces and voices to appear as teens. Once they get an intimate photo or video, then come the threats.
“So they’re using those images and saying hey you’ve gotta give me $500 or you’ve got to send me more pictures or you have to do everything I want, so it’s a subset of blackmail,” Laur said.
Osoko says the suspects will then threaten to send the pictures or videos to people the victim knows.
“Often it’s threatening to share it with family, friends, online, teachers, employers, that kind of thing it can be quite a significant psychological impact,” said Osoko.
“Talking about this, especially if it’s something that’s happening right now, is a way to make it stop.”
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has created a website with resources to help prevent sextortion.