Sextortion – the act of blackmailing someone online using their nude photos or content as a threat or coercion – is on the rise in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, a child protection agency says.
The national tip line for reporting online sexual exploitation of children, Cybertip.ca, which is owned and operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, says they have seen an 88-per-cent increase of sextortion and other online exploitation reports to the tip line since the pandemic began.
In an email to CTVNews.ca Tuesday, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP) said the 88 per cent increase in reports includes “multiple forms of online sexual exploitation of children,” including children receiving explicit images, videos or messages from adults, being coerced into making and sending explicit content or having sexual images or videos of themselves be shared online.
On average, Cybertip.ca receives 40 reports of sextortion a month the organization said in a release, with many offenders connecting with children and teens through apps such as Snapchat, Facebook and Omegle.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) said in an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca Tuesday that their definition of sextortion “specifically involves scammers creating fake profiles on social media, pornographic and dating websites.”
The scammers then use those profiles to “lure you into a relationship and coerce you into performing sexual acts on camera. The scammer records the session and threatens to send the image or video to other people unless you pay or provide more sexual content.”
Within those parameters and using a keyword search (and without explicit mention of child victims) the CAFC told CTVNews.ca they received 123 reports on sextortion in 2020, with a total reported loss of $35,000.
That is significantly higher than the 53 reports in 2019, with a total reported loss of $22,000.
Sextortion reports are continuing to roll in for 2021 as well.
Police in Regina, Alberta released an advisory Tuesday reporting two cases of sextortion.
In both cases the victims were contacted online by a stranger requesting to be a Facebook friend.
Conversations between the stranger and the victims began as a private message and then moved to a secondary social media platform that was not named.
Police say the conversation “turned sexual” between the stranger and the victims, who were “encouraged to expose themselves on camera.”
The stranger then informed the victims that their nude images and video were being recorded and would be shared with friends, family and online if they did not pay them off, the advisory details.
In both cases, the victims sent money to the perpetrator before reporting the crimes to the Regina Police. Both files are currently under investigation.
The CCCP said in their email they have “received reports of victims as young as 10, and from all ages up to adults, both male and female.”
But the “shame, guilt and fear” keep youth from telling anyone they are being sextorted, meaning the number of reports received by the tip line may not accurately describe the true scope of the crimes happening across Canada, according to the CCCP.
The CCCP told CTVNews.ca they have received reports of sextortion offenders “demanding money or gift cards, or additional sexual images or videos.”
And while the organization rarely has access to information on where the offenders are located, they stated they have “seen situations involving both domestic and international offenders” targeting Canadian youth.
Cybertip.ca said there are five steps for youth to take if they are being sextorted:
REPORT SEXTORTION IMMEDIATELY
The tip line encourages youth to immediately report what has happened to Cybertip.ca or to contact their local police division.
STOP ALL COMMUNICATION
De-activate, but do not delete, any of the accounts the youth is using to communicate with the person who is engaging in sextortion.
DO NOT COMPLY WITH THREATS
Cybertip.ca recommends never paying money to nor sending additional nude photos or content to whomever is blackmailing the youth.
If you have sent the blackmailer money, the organization recommends checking to see if the money has been collected, and if not, cancel all payments to the perpetrators.
KEEP ALL CORRESPONDENCE
Make sure to keep any information you may have about the blackmailer, including their name, usernames, email addresses, social media account information, copies of the messages sent along with any images or videos that were sent or exchanged – the authorities will need these items for their investigation.
REACH OUT TO SOMEONE YOU TRUST
Find an adult or community member you trust and feel safe with, and tell them what happened so they can help you get through this situation, Cybertip.ca recommends.