Garda warn of online ‘sextortion’ of teenagers and children

Increasing criminal trend of blackmailing teenagers over explicit images sent online

EU police agency Europol in conjunction with the Garda Síochána have launched the ’Say No' campaign against online sexual coercion and extortion of children, a form of digital blackmail, sometimes referred to as ‘sextortion’. Video: EUROPOL


Garda and Europol have said they are aware of an increasing trend of online blackmail and “sextortion” of children and teenagers over the internet.

A spokeswoman from the Garda explained “the online coercion and extortion of children is a form of digital blackmail, sometimes referred to as ‘sextortion’, where sexual information or images are used to extort sexual material, sexual favours or money from children”.

Europol, the EU policing agency, said perpetrators will attempt to impersonate younger online users and try to solicit or request explicit images of teenagers or children they meet online. The criminal perpetrator will then use the explicit image of the young person to blackmail them for further images or money.

Garda on Tuesday launched an awareness campaign called “Say No”, targeting young teenagers and children using the internet, advising them of the dangers of sharing explicit images or “nudes” online.

Garda assistant commissioner John O’Driscoll said: “Posting or uploading explicit images on social media, or passing such imagery to others online, is extremely dangerous and can have devastating and lifelong consequences for children and their families."

False profiles

Mr O’Driscoll, who heads up the Special Crime Operations unit in the Garda, said “any child who receives a request for naked or explicit photographs should not share any images. We ask them to tell their parents and immediately make contact with the Garda Síochána who will advise them regarding how the matter should be handled”.

Research from Europol found the average age of sextortion perpetrators was 34, and the average age of victims was 15. The criminals in most cases will use a false profile on social media sites, or impersonate a young person in other online chat or gaming sites.

When young girls were the victims of an attempted coercion attempt they were far more likely to be blackmailed for further explicit images by the perpetrator. Young male victims who sent on explicit images of themselves were more likely to be extorted for money, the recent Europol report found.

Crime networks

The Europol research found that where the perpetrator was driven by sexual motivations they were likely to be male, operating alone, and targeted females.

Where the perpetrator had financial motivations for attempting to extort the teenager they were likely to be part of an organised crime network, worked in teams, and could be either male or female.

The UK National Crime Agency’s anti-extortion unit received 1,247 reports of cyber blackmail offences last year, more than triple the 386 reports the agency received in 2015.

The Garda Online Child Exploitation unit has offered parents and young teenagers the following advice for protecting themselves online, and if they are approached online by someone requesting explicit images.

Protecting yourself online

1. Protect your online life: use the maximum privacy settings.

2. Be aware that people online may not be who they claim to be.

3. Keep control online: do not share explicit or intimate images with anyone.

If you believe you are a victim of this type of crime

1. Don’t share more, don’t pay anything.

2. Look for help. You are not alone.

3. Preserve evidence. Don’t delete anything.

4. Stop the communication. Block the person.