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How to protect yourself from online sextortion

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The Winnipeg Police Service has seen an increase in sextortion scheme reports over the past year.

Police explained that this scheme involves a perpetrator using a fake account to solicit a victim on social media. Officers said the schemer may operate outside of Canada and “catfish’ the victim by pretending to be an enticing individual who is young and attractive or who has similar interests.

From there, the perpetrator will create an online relationship based on false trust and emotion. Police note that as the relationship progresses, the victim is encouraged to share intimate images.

Officers said that in some cases, schemers will lurk in chat groups where people willingly post and live-stream sexually explicit material of themselves.

Once the victim shares their intimate images, they are held ransom as the sextortionist threatens to reveal their private life, sexual activity or intimate images if they don’t provide them with payment or sexual services.

Catherine Tabak with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection said so far this year, there has been a 150 per cent increase in the number of sextortion complaints they have received compared to last year.

“In July, we had received 322 reports related to sextortion within our tip line, in comparison to July of 2021, where we had received, I think it was about 85,” she said.

Tabak said the increased time children and teens are spending online due to the pandemic resulted in the increased number of sextortion attempts.

She adds despite the number of reports, it’s likely the true numbers are higher.

“We strongly believe that we're really seeing the tip of the iceberg and not getting sort of a fulsome picture of what's actually happening online,” Tabak said. “But we know just from our contact with families, parents and youth who are finding themselves in these situations that, you know, there's a sense of embarrassment and shame, and they're really, really concerned about the images being distributed.”

Some common payment requests used during blackmail are money transfers and prepaid gift cards, according to police.

The Winnipeg Police Service and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection caution everyone, including children and teens, to never share intimate images.

Tabak adds people need to cut off contact immediately with the perpetrator.

“As soon as you receive threats, do not pay the money,” she said. “We've seen from situations that are reported to us that when individuals do try to pay, thinking that that will bring a sense of relief to what's happening the threats actually escalate from there.”

Tabak added the Canadian Centre for Child Protection wants online platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat, to crack down on sextortion on their sites.

If you or someone you know is receiving sextortion threats, you can ask for help by calling the police non-emergency line at 204-986-6222. Other resources for help include NeedHelpNow.ca and Cybertip.ca.

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