SEXTORTION blackmail gangs are conning men to send intimate snaps of themselves by targeting them with fake Facebook friend requests from “beautiful women”, The Sun can reveal.
Authorities have warned the sextortion epidemic is on the rise with cases tripling in two years and at least five British victims killing themselves.
The “sextortionists” target their victims – often in their teens or twenties – by profiling their accounts online or randomly adding them as friends from fake accounts.
They use stolen pictures of attractive women – who are completely unaware of what their image is being used for – and pre-recorded clips to con men into believing they are talking to genuine admirers.
Victims are tricked into sending sexual pictures or filming themselves on web cams which the sextortionists use to blackmail them.
The crooks – often based in West Africa or south-east Asia – threaten to release the sex clips or images publicly and to the victim’s Facebook contacts unless they are paid cash.
It is estimated at least 30 Brits each day are conned by online sextortion scams with Facebook friend requests accounting for more than 50 per cent of cases, we can reveal.
Campaigners and online security agencies have called for legislation to force the site and other platforms to take stronger action to block fake accounts.
The Sun has been provided examples of criminals targeting victims online in the last month by Scam Survivors, who receive around 5,000 sextortion reports from across the globe each year.
One, Princess Britt, posing as an attractive woman, conned a victim into sending a picture of himself before then talking on Skype messenger.
In the messages the crook – based in the Philippines – demands $500 before settling on $350.
The victim, whose identify we are keeping secret, says in a message to the scammer: “I’m crying” to which the sextortionist replies: “I don’t care just faster to borrow.”
Tragic victim Daniel Perry, 17, took his own life by jumping off the Forth Road Bridge after he was conned by an online sextortion scam.
Trainee mechanic Daniel had believed he was talking to an American girl his age on Skype but was in fact speaking to a criminal syndicate based in the Philippines.
The gang had threatened to release footage of him to his Facebook friends and said he would be better off dead unless he paid cash before he leapt to his death in 2013.
UK authorities were able to identify a Filipino suspect Archie Gian Tolin – linked to an online scamming syndicate – but he has still not been extradited.
Our tips to avoid being stung by Facebook dating scams
- Always keep in mind that an approach may be fake – especially if the person seems unusually attractive.
- If you know how, do a reverse image search on their profile pictures to see if they have been used elsewhere.
- Be suspicious of friend requests from someone who you have no mutual friends with.
- Never send money to someone you’ve only talked to online.
- Don’t send explicit pictures to anyone you’ve never met in person.
- If an account starts trying to blackmail you, call the police immediately – and don’t send them any money.
We spoke to another victim who told how he was targeted by a sextortionist based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Facebook.
The 18-year-old student, who we are calling Simon to protect his identity, was conned by a scammer posing as a 19-year-old girl to send pictures of himself.
The crook then threatened to send the images to Simon’s Facebook friends unless he paid £200.
He told The Sun: “At first some nice girl added me and I was a little drunk so I accepted the friend request.
“Next she or he started messaging me until he convinced me to send pictures of my face. He sent me a girl’s photos and it all looked pretty real to me.
“Then he asked for money and said he would send my pictures to my friends. He said he was raising money for his sick daughter as well.
“I hadn’t thought it was a scam at first but in the end I felt like shit.”
Analysis of incident reports sent to campaigners’ Scam Survivors over the last month shows they have received 400 global reports of victims being targeted by sextortion scammers.
Facebook friend requests and approaches on the social media giant’s messenger app make up more than 52 per cent of cases with 209 starting on the site.
And last year it was reported Facebook had logged 54,000 potential cases of revenge porn and sextortion in a single month on the site with 14,130 accounts disabled.
The National Crime Agency had 1,304 cases reported last year – triple the 428 in 2015 – but believe the number of cases is hugely under-reported by victims.
They estimate millions of pounds are taken from men each year with thousands taken each time.
Romance or dating fraud – where victims are tricked into sending money to crooks after meeting them online – has seen at least £57.4million taken from victims in the last year.
The City of London Police figures has recorded an average loss of £15,330 per victim with older men – aged between 51 and 60 – the main targets for the crime.
Scam Survivors group data also shows that the Philippines was listed as the scammer’s location – on account of their money transfer destination – in 41 per cent of cases.
West Africa was listed in 37 per cent of cases while Morocco was now just one per cent – with 15 per cent of people paying the demands.
In the Ivory Coast, which dominates sextortion crime in the region, gangs operate in internet cafes and hotels targeting victims across the globe.
Authorities have tried to crack down on the operations with limited success as they use Western Union and MoneyGrams to carry out cash transfers.
In nearby Nigeria the crooks are known as “G-boys” – running multiple accounts to target victims of all ages – and working through the night in low-budget hotel to avoid authorities, according to sources.
While in the Philippines a syndicate linked to the suicide of 17-year-old Scot Daniel Perry was identified as allegedly being run by single mum-of-five Maria Cecilia Caparas-Regalachuelo, 37.
She was dubbed the “Queen of Extortion” and said to have amassed a huge fortune by running a unit of scammers as young as 12 to blackmail victims across the globe.
At the time of her first arrest in 2014 she was estimated to have made £1.5million from blackmailing victims.
Wayne May, founder of online fraud busters Scam Survivors based in Cardiff, said: “In the six years we’ve been looking at sextortion I’ve seen Facebook used more and more.
“And we’ve seen West Africa go from two or three per cent reports a couple of years ago to 50 per cent now.
“We’ve had people come to us and say they’re considering taking their own life – the scammers use scary words and people are terrified this will ruin their lives.
“We see people up to their 60s targeted but it’s more typically men in their late teens or twenties.
“I would say to people talk to somebody about it – don’t feel your alone. Don’t let shame kill you.”
Tony Neate, ex-cop and CEO of Get Safe Online which helps users protect themselves on the internet, said: “Sextortion is a huge problem.
“It amazes me how quick people are to allow photographs to be taken – you’ve got to be aware that this is valuable material.
“With Facebook and other social media outlets – there seems to be more dishonesty and criminals on those than actual dating sites.
“It’s typical of criminals, they’re not stupid – where they can see an opportunity they will jump onto it. We’ve seen people take their lives or complete family breakdown.”
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Roy Sinclair, from the NCA’s anti-kidnap and extortion unit, said: “Sextortion has been identified as an emerging threat in recent years and thousands of people in the UK are likely to be falling victim every year.
“We believe that it is likely there has been significant under-reporting because very often victims feel embarrassed or ashamed, but criminals rely on that reaction in order to succeed.
“The NCA and police forces are working together to build a more accurate picture of the true scale.”