North Vancouver RCMP are warning teens and their parents about a recent spike in “sextortions” targeting teenagers in the community.
Police are aware of several recent incidents where teens received messages from people threatening to release sexual images of them unless they paid several hundred dollars.
Teen boys have recently been among those targeted, said Const. Mansoor Sahak, spokesman for the North Vancouver RCMP, although any gender can be victimized.
Typically, fraudsters posing as young women under fake profiles befriend the victim on social media, including TikTok and Instagram, using that to get personal information. They then request the victim send nude photos or perform sexual acts on camera. Once the images or videos are recorded, the blackmailer threatens to forward those to the victim’s friends, family or employer unless they receive payment, said Sahak.
It's possible many more cases aren’t being reported, he added.
“Obviously it’s very traumatic for the victims,” said Sahak.
He said police are warning parents to have conversations with their kids and telling teens to be cautious. If you don’t know a person offline, it’s very difficult to confirm who is really behind any social media profile, he said. Someone who appears to be livestreaming may actually be playing a pre-recorded video, he said.
Sahak said anyone who is a victim of a sextortion attempt should never pay money or send additional photos. “The situation will not get better by doing either of these things,” he said.
Police warn it’s better not to create or send any intimate photos that could end up in the wrong hands.
Jesse Miller of Mediated Reality, who consults on social media education, says that’s only part of the equation.
“We do put a lot of onus on the victim,” he said.
Teens have grown up in a world where the sharing of sexual images among adults has become normalized, he said.
“The reality is they grew up in a culture where they see sexualized images all the time.”
At the same time, “You have to really understand the consequences you might face,” he said. “We want them to make better choices.”
Sextortions can also happen among peer groups, said Miller. In some cases, friends can go into each other’s phones and forward images they find there, or teens can post images in a group chat that gets circulated.
Ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends can also forward sexual images in acts of revenge.
Miller said he warns teens that if they are creating or sending sexual images, make sure there is nothing that could identify them – including tattoos, backgrounds or recognizable features – included in the photo.
But teens also need to know that if an image they’ve sent to someone gets shared without their consent, that is illegal and something they can report, said Miller.
Sahak said investigating such cases can be complex, but “it is possible and we have done it.”
In 2014, a 23-year-old North Vancouver man got a 60-day jail sentence for carrying out threats to send a sexually explicit video of a teenaged girl to several of her Facebook friends.
The man had found the video on a cellphone belonging to the victim's boyfriend after that phone went missing. He then tracked down the young woman on Facebook and made the threats under a fake identity. Police investigators eventually traced him.