Throughout 2022 and 2023, in the UK and internationally, there has been an increase in reporting of ‘Financially Motivated Sexual Extortion’– often referred to as ‘sextortion’.

Although victims of any age are potential targets, UK-wide data suggests that children aged 15-17 years and adults aged 18-30 are particularly at risk.

What is Sextortion?

Sextortion can refer to a variety of offences committed online. It is most often used to describe online blackmail, where criminals threaten to release sexual/indecent images of you, unless you pay money or carry out their demands.

Sextortion may be:

  • Financial blackmail using sexual / indecent images that have been sent to somebody you’ve had contact with online.
  • Financial blackmail using images that have been stolen from you, taken through hacking, or have been faked using AI generators or other image altering technology.
  • Blackmail using sexual/indecent images that have been sent to somebody but with a demand for something other than money. This might be a demand for you to do something you don’t want to, like give them use of your bank account or provide more images.

Recognising Sextortion

While victims of Sextortion may feel distressed or blame themselves, they have been tricked or deceived in some way – it is not their fault. These threats are often committed by organised criminals motivated only by money. It does not matter if an image was initially shared with your consent or through threats or manipulation – the misuse of your image is an offence and is never OK.

Offenders will often pose as other people, and send a large number of friend requests to your social media accounts quickly. If a new connection engages in sexual chat, or asks for sexual/indecent images, this might be an attempt at sextortion. If you are uncomfortable, do not share any images. Sextortion attempts can escalate very quickly, or take place over a longer period of time.

Typical signs of sextortion attempts may include:

  1. They’re moving too fast. They try to develop a relationship with you very quickly. They might be flirty, tell you they like you very soon, or ask for sexual / indecent images and videos.  Some may even send a sexual / indecent image to you first.
  2. They pressure you to do things you’re not comfortable with. They may repeatedly ask you to do sexual things you don’t feel comfortable with. It’s never ok for someone to ask you to do things you don’t want to.
  3. They might tell you they’ve hacked you or that they have access to your contacts. Some blackmailers might tell you they’ve got embarrassing images or information about you from your device. They might threaten to share this information unless money is given to them.

If you are chatting to new people online:

  • If you’re not comfortable with any new relationships or contact, end it quickly and block them from re-connecting with you.
  • If you think you are being or have been a victim of sextortion then contact Police Scotland on 101. 

Top tips to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of Sextortion

  1. Consider reviewing your privacy settings – if criminals can’t see who your friends and family are, they’re less likely to be able to make threats to share images or information. The National Cyber Security Centre has information on how to use social media safely here.
  2. Create strong password using three random words – The National Cyber Security Centre has advice on how to create strong passwords here.
  3. Protect your data online – to learn how to prevent your social media account from a hacking incident access information here.
  4. Spot phishing emails – you can get advice on how to protect yourself from Sextortion phishing emails here.

If you would like more information on how to keep yourself and your family safe online or get support if you are being threatened by a stranger or someone you know to share your intimate images, please visit: Sextortion – Police Scotland

Police Scotland

Information provided by the Police Scotland Cybercrime Harm Prevention Team

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