Alert issued as number of young people targeted in sextortion scams doubles

An unprecedented alert about so-called sextortion scams targeting teenagers has been sent out to teachers after the number of reported cases doubled in a year.

Officials at the National Crime Agency (NCA) issued the warning on Monday, highlighting the “devastating” impact the scams can have on young people duped into handing over intimate photos.

Sextortion is blackmail where criminals threaten to release nude or semi-nude photos of someone – either real or fake – unless the victim pays them.

Nine out of 10 (91%) UK cases dealt with by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in 2023 concerned male victims, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

Gangs based in some west African countries and South East Asia are targeting young people based overseas, many in the Five Eyes countries – the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

They often pose as another young person, making contact on social media before moving to encrypted messaging apps and encouraging the victim to share intimate images.

The gangs in this type of crime are motivated by extorting as much money as possible rather than sexual gratification, the NCA said.

Its child exploitation and online protection (CEOP) education team on Monday issued guidance to teachers about spotting the signs of this type of abuse, supporting young people and encouraging them to seek help.

A person using a laptop
Scammers often pose as another young person, making contact on social media before moving to encrypted messaging apps (Tim Goode/PA)

Advice includes not to pay, to stop communication and block the offender, but to avoid deleting anything that could be used as evidence and to report incidents to the police or CEOP.

James Babbage, the NCA’s director general for threats, said: “Sextortion causes immeasurable stress and anguish, and we know there are adults and young people who have devastatingly taken their own lives as a result.

“A lot of victims feel responsible but we need them to know this is absolutely not the case; you are not to blame and help and support is available.”

Marie Smith, the NCA’s head of CEOP education, said falling prey to the scams has a devastating impact on the children’s lives and those of their families.

She said of the criminals: “They’re extremely malicious, they do not care about that child or that child’s life.

The criminals work quickly, with some blackmail demands being made within only an hour of first making contact with a young person.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the IWF, said: “Sextortion has become a major threat online in the last few years.

“This alert to schools is an absolutely crucial intervention in stemming this epidemic which has already ruined so many young lives.

“These criminals are cold-blooded, and do not even care when the shame and fear they inflict drives some children to take their own lives.

“We want children to know, however, they are not alone, no matter how lonely it feels, that there is a remedy, and a way to take control and fight back.

“Please, if you are being targeted this way, reach out. It is not a hopeless situation, and we are here to help you.”

Security minister Tom Tugendhat said sextortion “destroys lives”.

“It is often driven by highly sophisticated organised crime groups who exploit vulnerable people for profit,” he said.

“It’s vital that technology companies take responsibility for the safety of their users by implementing stronger safeguards on their platforms.

“I would urge parents to talk to their children about their use of social media. Even sites that many assume to be safe may pose a risk.”

Richard Collard, associate head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, said: “Children must be supported to spot signs of abuse, but the burden should not be on them to protect themselves from harm online.

“Tech companies must step up and actively tackle the threat of sexual extortion on their platforms by putting safeguards in place and identifying dangerous behaviour.”

Guidance for teachers can be found at

To get support or report an incident visit

Help to get images removed if they have been posted online can be found at or

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