Beware of webcam blackmail

A dramatic increase has been reported in webcam blackmail, where victims are lured into taking off their clothes in front of their webcam – and sometimes performing sexual acts – allowing the fraudster to record a video.

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Most reports of these 'honey trap' crimes are about fraudsters posing as attractive young women on social networking and online dating sites to entrap men. A threat is then made to publish the video with false allegations of paedophilia, unless money is paid.

The BBC's 'Click' news programme on Friday 15 September gives a disturbing account of how these frauds work, why unsuspecting people get lured into the trap and some of the consequences – not only financial – to the victims. The programme takes us to France, where police say they learn of incidents every day, with most going unreported because of embarrassment or fear.

A 28-year-old man gives an anonymous account of his experience of being lured into taking his clothes off by an online conversation with an attractive young woman. The result: he was immediately presented on screen with a copy of the video accompanied by a demand for 500 Euro to be wired to the Ivory Coast to avoid being reported for being a paedophile.

Typically, if blackmail demands are not met, the victim will be contacted by the 'Police' to demand a fine for their 'crime'.

The sums of money demanded – and often paid out – are substantial. However, the consequences can be worse … the programme reports of a victim of demands so relentless that he could see no way out, and committed suicide.

French police advise victims not to respond to blackmailers' demands. The 28 year-old man refused to pay, the blackmailers lost interest and gave up. However, another victim paid up and received further demands for money. French police also advise victims to report it to them or to at least flag it up on their website. There seems to be little that police anywhere can currently do, as mechanisms for international co-operation are limited.

Quoting the French police on the BBC programme: "This sort of crime is only possible because of the unique connectability, anonymity and intimacy-at-a-distance which the internet affords. Until the differences that separate international law enforcers are bridged as easily, we will continue with victims in one country, perpetrators in another – and with little that can be done about it."

The programme can be viewed on BBC iPlayer.

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