Safeguarding against online ‘sextortion’

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Carolanne Bamford-Beattie


Safeguarding against Sextortion

Protecting your child from the rise of online blackmail and scams

According to recent reports from The BBC,  criminal gangs are selling guides on how to blackmail children using what’s known as ‘sextortion’ tactics. The findings have promoted schools in the UK to issue urgent warnings to parents on how to spot and protect children from these dangers.

The report follows the tragic news of a 17 year-old teenager who took his own life just six hours after being targeted by scammers.

In today’s online world, children are increasingly exposed to the risks of online blackmail and scams. As a parent, it’s crucial to equip yourself with knowledge and resources to safeguard your child’s online safety and well-being. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to respond if your child becomes a target of online blackmail or falls victim to a scam.

How do online scammers capture teens’ attention?

It starts with befriending online. Scammers will create fake profiles designed to look like peers. Quite often they will target teenage boys with false profiles of pretty girls and sexualised content. Once they gain their trust, the relationship suddenly changes. The teen may then start to share sexual content with the scammer, including imagery and video, which then the criminal uses as a means to blackmail them.

It’s also important to note that the teen victim doesn’t need to share inappropriate or nude imagery with the criminal for blackmailing to start – often these scammers use software to doctor imagery.

The gangs will prey on the insecurities of these teen victims and begin blackmailing them by threatening to share the images widely online.

Recognizing the signs of sextortion and online blackmail

First and foremost, it’s essential to be vigilant and recognize the signs that your child may be experiencing online blackmail or scamming. Keep an eye out for changes in behavior such as:

  • Becoming withdrawn or secretive about online activities
  • Unexplained financial transactions or requests for money

What to do if you’re being blackmailed online?

If your child confides in you about being blackmailed or scammed online, it’s crucial to remain calm and supportive. Reassure them that they are not alone and that you are there to help them navigate through the situation.

Scammers don’t target in isolation, they will have plenty of victims. It’s important to explain how this has happened and tell your child they are not in trouble, nor will anything bad happen to them because of the scamming.

Reporting sextortion and blackmailing to the police

Take your child’s device and reserve any evidence related to the blackmail or scamming incident. This may include screenshots of threatening messages, emails, or any financial transactions. Documenting evidence is vital for any potential investigation and reporting to authorities.

Reporting online blackmail or scams to law enforcement is essential for holding perpetrators accountable and preventing further harm. Most police departments offer online platforms for reporting cyber crimes. Ensure that you provide detailed information about the incident, including any evidence you have collected.

Many law enforcement agencies have specialized cybercrime units dedicated to investigating online offenses. These units are equipped to handle cases involving online blackmail and can provide valuable assistance and support throughout the process. Most often you an report blackmail to the police online.

What next? Preventing online blackmail scams and helping your child process their experience

In cases where online blackmail or scamming has caused significant emotional distress to your child, it can be helpful to consider seeking professional help from a counselor or therapist. For many teens, this will be their first experience of crime or the malicious intentions of another person, which is a hard lesson to learn.  Professional support can help your child cope with the trauma and regain a sense of security.

Prevention is key to protecting your child from falling victim to online blackmail or scams in the future. Having an open dialogue with your child where they feel empowered to talk to you about anything that’s happening to them – no matter how embarrassed or ashamed they might feel.

Maintaining open communication with your child is crucial for fostering trust and ensuring they feel comfortable confiding in you about any online concerns or incidents they may encounter. Encourage them to come to you immediately if they ever feel threatened or uncomfortable online and reassure them there will never be punishment or judgment passed for doing so.

Now is a good time to have a refresh on internet safety and digital literacy. Check out our guides for more information and always make sure that:

  • Your teen is cautious about sharing personal information online
  • Avoids interactions with strangers or suspicious individuals
  • Reports and blocks suspicious messages or interactions
  • Never reveals sensitive or identifiable information online
  • Don’t take or send inappropriate or nude content to anyone – even on disappearing content platforms like Snapchat

Once you’ve had a reset on internet safety, take proactive measures to secure your child’s devices and online accounts, including:

  • Using strong, unique passwords for each account
  • Enabling two-factor authentication wherever possible
  • Installing reputable antivirus software on all devices and keeping it updated regularly
  • Monitoring your child’s online activities and setting parenting controls where needed

Keeping one step ahead of the online scammers

Lastly, stay informed about the latest trends and threats in online safety and continue to be vigilant in monitoring your child’s online activities. Scammers are always changing and evolving their schemes, and by staying proactive and involved, you can help protect your child from falling victim to online blackmail, scams and sextortion.

Online blackmail and scams pose significant risks to children in today’s digital age. As a parent, it’s essential to be proactive in educating your child about online safety, staying vigilant in monitoring their online activities, and knowing how to respond effectively if they become a target of blackmail or scamming.