Warning against NI ‘sextortion’

Ronan Hughes.
Ronan Hughes.

Figures from the National Crime Agency reveal that there have been 864 reported cases of “sextortion” in the past year.

However, the agency believes the actual number of sexual exploitation offences could be much higher, either because police are classifying them differently or because people aren’t reporting them to law enforcement.

Here are four case studies of people who have fallen victim to the crime:

:: Jimmy is in his 20s and from Northern Ireland

He said: “I met her on a well-known dating app and she suggested we move onto another app you can chat on. I got talking away to her for a few days. Then she suggested we exchange photos.

“Some of them got a bit sexy, you know? She asked to see my Facebook profile, she wanted to make friends on there.

“Literally ten minutes after I’d sent her my profile, I got this message: ‘What would you do if I sent these photos to your friends and family?’ I said to her no, don’t do it. And then I asked her what she wanted me to do?’”

He said the woman first asked him to sign up to various webcam websites before demanding money from him.

“It was really stressful and I didn’t know what to do. I caved in and sent her £150. She said she wanted £300 but I said no, deactivated my Facebook and went to the police.” said Jimmy.

:: Ronan Hughes, 17, from Clonoe, near Coalisland, Co Tyrone, took his own life in June 2015.

His family said the teenager was subjected to a “relentless” campaign of bullying by a Nigerian gang and was duped into posting intimate photos online after receiving pictures of a girl.

He was then blackmailed for £3,000 by criminals who threatened to upload the images to the Facebook pages of his friends.

In October, police investigating the webcam blackmail linked to Ronan’s death charged a man in Romania and he was remanded in custody.

The suspect, aged 31, appeared at Bucharest Municipal Court accused of producing and distributing indecent images of children and blackmail, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

:: Gary is in his late teens and from Hampshire.

Due to working night shifts, Gary found it difficult to meet people and decided to try to do so online.

One woman he had been speaking to online for some time suggested persistently that they move the conversation onto Skype and asked for his Facebook profile and picture.

He said: “She was halfway across the room. It lasted for around 30 to 45 minutes, all on the phone. She said ‘show me a bit more, and show me your face’.

“Then the messages came up - ‘pay £500 or this is going all over Facebook. I want £500’ then she started listing my friends’ details. I said I could not afford £500, she said £200 was the lowest. I said I could only pay £50.

“I offered to go to the bank but went to the police station instead. I was trembling throughout the whole thing, shaking and thinking ‘what’s going to happen?’. This will ruin my life and did not know what to do. If this video is released onto Facebook, what would I do?

“What’s going to happen with my job? What will my friends think? I thought about suicide, it would have been too embarrassing. I would not have been able to face anyone. But I went to the police, and kept her talking by saying I was at the bank.”

:: John is in his 60s and from Hertfordshire.

John took to online dating after splitting from his wife and eventually made contact with a woman on a Filipino site that a friend recommended to him.

John and the woman had normal conversations and one night she suggested they start speaking on Skype

He said: “We exchanged some messages and she made some suggestion to say that she would remove her clothes if I did the same.

“I’d had a few glasses of wine so maybe my inhibitions had dropped a bit and I agreed. Straight away after that, the threats began.”

“They said ‘now I’ve recorded you. If you don’t pay me, I’ll put that video all over Facebook and YouTube’.”

John said he did not go to police straight away as he felt embarrassed.

He said: “Even now, I have trouble going on to the internet and I can’t use Facebook any more. I wake up every morning and what is always in my head is that I don’t know if that video still exists or not.

“The police told me that people have committed suicide because of this, I can understand why. You feel destroyed.”