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Calgary police warn of online 'sextortion' scam targeting young boys

Calgary Police Service (file) Calgary Police Service (file)
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With nearly 50 incidents reported so far this year, Calgary police issued a warning Thursday about a rise in "sextortion" cases and are encouraging parents, children and caregivers to understand and practise online safety.

"Sextortion refers to a form of blackmail where online scammers, often using the disguise of a phony profile, establish a connection with potential victims and express romantic interest," police said in a release.

"As the conversation between the scammer and victim progresses, the scammer will solicit intimate photos and videos of the victim. If the victim complies, the scammer then demands money, threatening to share the explicit material with the victim’s friends list on their profile if payment is not received. "

Between Jan. 1 and May 30, Calgary police have received 48 reports of sextortion incidents, most targeting young boys. A number of investigations have been launched and officers have found scammers frequently posed as a young woman and privately messaged victims through Instagram or Snapchat.

"We believe these crimes are vastly underreported," said Staff Sgt. Graeme Smiley of the cybercrimes team.

"We are thankful for the courageous victims who have come forward and encourage others who believe they have been victimized to do the same. We are asking parents and caregivers to have honest conversations with their children about online safety and how to seek help if kids find themselves in dangerous situations."

Investigating online extortion scams can be difficult, police said, as the perpetrators often live in different cities and countries but police say it is important for victims to report any incidents so trends can be tracked and others can be warned. Victims should also be connected to support services.

"It is illegal for anyone to solicit, send or consume sexually explicit images or video footage of minors," police said.

Anyone who feels they are a victim of sexual exploitation is asked to call the CPS non-emergency number at 403-266-1234, or 911 if they are in immediate danger. Tips can also be submitted to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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