TERRIFIED young men are at risk of suicide after being falsely branded paedophiles by blackmail gangs who lure them into doing sex acts on webcams.
More than 140 people, mostly men aged between 17 and 23, reported being victims of sextortion last year – but police say this is the tip of the iceberg.
Gangsters in the Philippines, the Ivory Coast and Morocco run professionally set-up call centre-type operations, rewarding staff who extort the most.
In an exclusive interview with The News, Detective Chief Inspector Paul Gelman made a direct appeal to victims to come forward, as Hampshire police launches a campaign tackling the growing crime.
Det Chief Insp Gelman said organised crime groups use videos of women to encourage victims before swapping the image with a recorded video of a child.
They aim to make it look like the victim has been performing a sex act for a child, leaving them open to blackmail as they threaten to share the videos.
Det Chief Insp Gelman said: ‘There are men in Hampshire whose lives are falling apart because of it.’
One victim, who was urged to pay to pay £500 or the video would be shared on Facebook, said: ‘I thought about suicide, it would have been too embarrassing. I would not have been able to face anyone.’
He went to police instead and they were able to help him.
Det Chief Insp Gelman added: ‘We’re not judgemental, we’ll treat victims with respect and dignity and we recognise they’re the victims.
There are men in Hampshire whose lives are falling apart because of itDCI Paul Gelman
‘These are the ones we really need to come to the police or Samaritans.
‘What we don’t want is young men walking around thinking “if I go to the police I’m branded a paedophile”.’
Demands for cash can range from hundreds of pounds to £3,000 each time.
Det Chief Insp Gelman is urging victims not to pay but instead deactivate their Skype account, and write down the Skype ID of the perpetrator, details of the Western Union or other bank account offered, and report the incident to police.
Four young men in England and Scotland have died by suicide after being targeted, Det Chief Insp Gelman added.
With groups operating abroad police are focusing on victims, but said they are able to work with Interpol to track down offenders. The force is organising a Twitter talk on Thursday between 8pm and 9.30pm using #sextortion.
A VICTIM’S STORY
ONE victim of sextortion has told how he was targeted.
The man, in his late teens, was working night shifts and was going online to meet people on dating websites.
He said: ‘This made me happier. I felt better. One of the people I’d been talking to suggested I go onto Skype. I’d been talking to them for a while so I thought why not? They seemed persistent, which in hindsight was the first warning sign.’
He added: ‘She’d asked me for my Facebook profile and picture. The conversations had lasted a week or two, more than previous ones. It seemed normal then this woman started talking intimately. She invited me on to Skype where she looked similar to her profile picture. She was half-way across the room.’
But then she turned his life upside down.
‘Then the messages came up – ‘pay £500 or this is going all over Facebook,’ the victim said.
He added: ‘I said I could only pay £50. I offered to go to the bank but went to the police instead.
‘I was trembling throughout the whole thing, shaking and thinking ‘what’s going to happen?’ This will ruin my life.’
He praised police for their help. No-one has been prosecuted.