After receiving a wave of reports of a new online extortion scam last year, the Calgary Police Service and the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) are educating citizens about the signs of sexstortion scams during Cyber Security Awareness Month.
By the numbers
Last year, we received 184 reports of sexstortion. So far this year, we have received 195 reports.
The Internet Child Exploitation unit (ICE) with ALERT received nearly 3,000 case referrals last year, which is equal to a 185 per cent increase over the past five years. Last year, ICE also rescued 46 children from abuse, exploitation, and/or luring.
What is sexstortion?
Sexstortion refers to a form of blackmail where online scammers, often using the disguise of a fake social media profile, establish a connection with potential victims and express romantic interest. As the conversation between the scammer and victim progresses, the scammer will solicit intimate photos and videos of the victim. If the victim complies, the scammer then demands money, threatening to share the explicit material with the victim’s friends list on their profile if payment is not received. In some cases, scammers have photoshopped explicit images of victims who did not comply with the request to send photos, who are still attempted to be extorted.
Who is targeted?
Roughly 86 percent of reports received by the Calgary Police Service are of male victims, with 70 percent of those consisting of young men and boys between the ages of 13 and 25.
These scenarios often create panic, shame, and youth are reluctant to reveal their mistake to a trusted adult, leading to the belief that these crimes are vastly underreported.
Scammers typically demand payment of approximately $1,000, as they know that most young people would not be able to produce exorbitant amounts of money.
Where does the scam originate?
While the sexstortion investigations are ongoing, making arrests and laying charges is challenging as the suspects are believed to be operating internationally. It is not unusual to have multiple suspects across multiple jurisdictions – some doing the extortion, some collecting the cash. Suspects, like many other online scams, are organized and motivated to obtain money in any fashion.
Sexstortion scammers usually use social media platforms to target and lure victims, but online dating sites and job boards have also been used to perpetuate the scam.
“Due to the complex nature of these cross-jurisdictional investigations, collaboration between law enforcement agencies is key,” says Staff Sergeant Graeme Smiley of the Calgary Police Service Cyber Forensics Unit. “Even if an investigation does not lead to the recovery of funds, it is still incredibly important to report these incidents to police so that law enforcement can track crime trends and help connect victims with the necessary supports and resources.”
“Sextortion cases are completely debilitating for youth and have become all too frequent – and it is happening inside our homes. We are hoping this campaign allows us to connect with youth online and provide education and supporting resources in a manner that is accessible and noteworthy,” said Superintendent Marc Cochlin, ALERT CEO.
It is illegal for anyone to solicit, send or consume sexually explicit images or video footage of minors.
To learn more about sexstortion scam, visit www.alert-ab.ca/butt-out-creeps/.
The Calgary Police Service and Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team encourages anyone who believes they are a victim of sexual exploitation to report it to police. Victims of sexual exploitation can report it to police by calling the non-emergency number at 403-266-1234, or 9-1-1 if they are in immediate danger.
Tips can also be submitted anonymously to Crime Stoppers through any of the following methods:
APP: P3 Tips