A tragic situation in Prince George, British Columbia has the RCMP encouraging parents and caregivers to have open, honest conversations with their children about financial sextortion.
Catherine Tabak is the senior manager for cybertip.ca, the national tipline for reporting incidents of online child sexual abuse and exploitation, and it is operated through the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. She explained what sextortion is.
“Sextortion is really specific to groups of individuals, normally criminal enterprises, who are looking to get into quick contact with either young victims or young adults with the intent of getting a financial gain from them by using, or coercing them into sending sexual pictures or videos and using that content to then threaten or extort them for financial gain, whether that be through sending money or gift cards,” Tabak stated.
The situation often begins with accounts on social media or messaging platforms pretending to be a young woman, or someone of a similar age to a youth or young adult who sends a friend request. From there, it generally escalates very quickly, engaging in sexual conversation and typically has explicit pre-recorded video or images of a young woman. They use those images to coerce their victims into sending similar photos or videos in return, and then use that content to threaten them into sending money or gift cards, in exchange for not telling family and friends about the content.
“These situations really happen very quickly, sometimes in a matter of minutes, and we see them escalate very quickly,” Tabak continued. “These extortion groups are relentless, and so they’re sending messages every five seconds to their victims, really applying pressure and creating this environment where their victims are doing anything possible out of desperation.”
The Saskatchewan RCMP is encouraging people to take steps to safeguard themselves, no matter their age, from financial sextortion. This includes remembering you never really know who you are talking to online, as scammers often pretend to be other people to earn the trust of their victims.
They advise to not send intimate photos or videos. As soon as they are sent to someone else, or posted online somewhere, you lose control of them. They also encourage parents to monitor the online activity of their children, including social media use and search history.
If you do find yourself the victim of a sextortion scam, police advise to stop talking to the suspect immediately, and deactivate, but not delete, any social media accounts being used to communicate with the suspect. Keep any record of conversations you can, don’t send any money or gift cards, and contact the police right away.
For parents who are looking for resources to help with the conversations with their children, Tabak said they have those available through cypertip.ca.
“We also have a support services team through our needhelpnow.ca website, but there’s a wealth of information there tied to specifically what sextortion is, steps that you can take to help manage when you find yourself in such an incident, but the most important part is really just reaching out and getting help because these extortion groups are relentless, and it is not reasonable to think that a child can manage this type of situation on their own,” Tabak added.