Today on Safer Internet Day, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), along with law enforcement partners internationally and domestically, are issuing a joint warning about financial sextortion. Law enforcement agencies are encouraging everyone to learn what financial sextortion is and how to protect yourself and those around you from this crime.
Financial sextortion is a type of online blackmail that is, sadly, on the rise. It involves someone asking you to send them sexual images or videos of yourself and then threatening to share them with others unless you pay them. Offenders often pose as girls of a similar age and use fake accounts to target youth, deceiving them into sending explicit photos or videos. The offender then threatens to release the sexual materials unless the victim sends them money. These offenders know what they are doing, are organized, and are very good at what they do. They will rely on threats and aggressive behaviour to get you to send them what they want – it is important to remember that there is help available.
The increase of financial sextortion is a public safety crisis that is heavily impacting youth globally. It is a crime where anyone, including children, can be victimized through their phones, gaming consoles and computers. They can be targeted in their own homes, their classrooms, and in other public places. This serves as a good reminder to practice online safety by using privacy settings on social media accounts and to not add or follow people unknown to you.
Everyone is at risk of financial sextortion, but recent findings suggest that young boys have represented the majority of cases in the last year. According to Cybertip.ca, Canada's tip line, 87% of sextortion incidents affected boys. It is important to remember that while boys represent the majority of reported victims, anyone can be victimized and that there are resources to help if you think you are being sextorted.
What to do if you are being financially sextorted:
- Stop all communication with the offender.
- Deactivate, but do not delete your social media account or images.
- Save a copy of any images you sent, and take screenshots of the messages and the person's profile including username.
- Do not comply with any threats, do not send money or more images.
- According to an open source analysis by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection of 6,500 first-hand accounts shared publicly on a popular victim support forum, complying with an extorter's demands often leads to frequent future demands.
- Trust your instincts, practice caution when communicating online.
- Reach out to a trusted adult, and report what happened through cybertip.ca or to your local police. It is important to know that you will not be in trouble with law enforcement and that you are not the one to blame in this situation. By reporting, you can help to keep other youth safer as well.
- Trust that there is life after images.
- The offender might make you feel like your life is over or ruined, but you are not alone and life can go on after these threats. These offenders are smart, but law enforcement is working together to combat these crimes.
Even though financial sextortion is committed virtually, it can have serious impacts offline. After the threats and aggression, victims can feel alone, ashamed, scared, and sometimes desperate – to the point where they can harm themselves. Countless children and adults in Canada and around the world have been threatened this way. There are resources and supports available to help. You are not alone.
If you need help, there are resources available to you:
- Cybertip.ca provides information on staying safe online and how to report any concerns. You can provide your name and contact information, or complete the form anonymously.
- Cybertip.ca also manages Project Arachnid. This program helps victims have their images removed if they are shared publicly.
- Don't Get Sextorted has information on staying safe and getting help.
- Need Help Now provides information on emotional support, reporting, helping a friend, and answering frequently asked questions.
- Public Safety Canada provides youth, parents and caregivers with educational resources on Online Dangers, including sextortion.
- Kids Help Phone can provide urgent support in terms of emotional support and steps on what to do next.
- The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has sextortion resources available to the public.
- The Department of Justice's Victim Services Directory can provide information on resources in your community available to victims of online child sexual exploitation.
Online financial sextortion is a borderless crime. Domestic and international law enforcement partners continue to work together to help prevent these crimes.
- Cybertip.ca has seen a 56% increase in youth being sextorted between March and August 2022.
- Cybertip.ca received 600+ sextortion reports in July and August 2022, and are currently receiving an average of 200 reports monthly.
Protecting our youth from financial sextortion is of paramount importance. The impact on these vulnerable victims is devastating and may result in psychological trauma and serious mental health issues. The RCMP is committed to working with our domestic and international partners to investigate this crime, as well as develop public awareness and prevention campaigns to remove the stigma associated with this online crime and to advocate for victims, ensuring there is life after images.
The RCMP is pleased to be working with international law enforcement partners to help to ensure young people are protected online. These crimes are real, they have serious implications, and young people need to understand that police are there to support them. These offenders prey on young people and this is not acceptable. International police are united in our fight against these crimes.
Sextortion is a public safety emergency threatening Canada's children. These are highly organized offenders using aggressive tactics to manipulate youth into complying with their demands. Talking to your teens about this issue and reminding them they can always come to you is paramount. Until governments hold technology companies accountable and demand protections that keep unknown adults from intersecting with children in unsupervised online spaces, parents are the front line of defence against this threat.
International cooperation has never been more important in tackling the threat of online child sexual abuse. The strength of the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) comes from being able to share expertise and take rapid coordinated action against emerging global trends such as the rising threat of financial extortion. As chair, I am determined to maximise every opportunity afforded by the VGT to help us to continue to bear down on the threat, protect children and target offenders.
Whilst we are committed to doing everything we can, the most important reminder of Safer Internet Day is to continue having open conversations about online safety within our communities and especially with the young people in our lives. Thankfully there is an arsenal of preventative tools available globally to support caregivers, professionals and young people such as the Safer Internet Day activities, and the CEOP Education website in the UK.
Associated Links by Country:
- National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (NCECC)
- Public Safety Canada
- Toronto Police Service (TPS)
- Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT)
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)
- Take It Down program
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Contact local FBI field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online
- Department of Homeland Security
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- National Crime Agency's CEOP Education website