'Sextortion’ scams on the rise: What to watch for

Dene Moore
National Affairs Contributor
Woman taking selfie blowing kisses (iStock)

A warning for online daters: be careful who you wish for.

RCMP in Richmond, B.C., have issued a public warning about online “sextortion,” saying they’ve seen a recent increase in the number of such cases, and they’re asking people to be cautious.

Victims are being befriended on dating websites, said Richmond RCMP spokesman Const. Dennis Hwang.

“A suspect then entices the victim in performing intimate acts streamed over webcam or mobile device. Unbeknownst to the victim, the interaction is secretly recorded,” Hwang said.

“The suspect then threatens to release the video online unless they are paid by the victim.”

The Mounties said the suspects generally are using free dating or companionship sites. Contact may be innocuous for days or even weeks. The suspect avoids meeting in person and may only be able to talk or chat at odd hours.

The RCMP is cautioning the public against sharing intimate photos online or sending money if they end up targeted.

Reminiscent of Amanda Todd case

Police did not specify who has been victimized, but the crimes are reminiscent of the case of Amanda Todd, the 15-year-old from Port Coquitlam, B.C., who took her own life in 2012 after being sexually exploited by an online predator.

Todd posted a wrenching video on YouTube shortly before her death, describing how she was sexually exploited and blackmailed by an Internet predator who distributed photos to her family, friends and online.

After that, she was relentlessly bullied.

A 36-year-old Dutch man now faces child pornography, extortion and harassment charges in her case. Prosecutors in the Netherlands have said the man, Aydin Coban, may have targeted up to 75 victims around the world.

Police in the United Kingdom issued a public warning last year after several men came forward with complaints that they were being blackmailed over online video sex chats. The men were told to send money to an offshore account or the videos and screengrabs would be sent to their spouses or children.

Young people targeted

All too often, though, children and teens are the targets.

The number of reports of online child exploitation to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection’s Cybertip.ca jumped from 179 in 2003 to 7,913 in 2010. In that time, the site has received a total of 39,783 such reports.

Const. Quinn Provost, an investigator in Richmond’s serious crimes unit, said members of the public need to be aware that this crime is happening, and he advised victims should talk to someone about what they’re going through.

“Feelings of hopelessness and shame are common for victims of this type of crime,” Provost said in a statement. “It is important to be able to speak to someone about the incident – whether it is a parent, partner, sibling, friend, mental health professional or crisis worker.”