POLICE have seen a rise in the number of people targeted by 'sextortion' and sexualised phishing scams since the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK.

The number of sextortion incidents reported to the police have approximately tripled in the last year to date.

This is when criminals use fake identities online to befriend people and encourage them to send intimate pictures or perform sexual acts in front of a webcam.

The criminals then secretly record and save the footage in an attempt to blackmail the victim by threatening to share the intimate images with members of the victim's friends and family unless they receive payment.

This can be extremely embarrassing and upsetting for those tricked into sharing such private acts. The Wiltshire Police Digital Investigations and Intelligence Unit is appealing to the public to think before they share online.

Detective Inspector Gemma Vinton said: “We have seen an increase in the serious and distressing crime of sextortion. This could happen to anyone, but those predominantly targeted tend to be younger men aged between 17 and 25, and men over the age of 60.

“I would urge the public to stop and think before sharing intimate photos or videos, or taking part in intimate activities online.

"Please be aware that the person you are communicating with may not be who they say they are, and don’t let the heat of the moment cause you to make rash decisions to take part in activities that could lead you susceptible to blackmail attempts.

“However if you do become a victim of sextortion, please do not panic, do not pay, do not communicate any further, and report it to the police.

"We appreciate that it can be embarrassing, but these criminals will look to exploit others, and it’s important that we do everything we can to identify and stop them to prevent other people falling victim to their crime.”

Plus, criminals are taking advantage of people spending more time online by sending phishing emails.

These emails encourage unsuspecting victims to click on links and share sensitive information or open attachments which often contain ransomware to encrypt files.

Sexualised phishing emails specifically try to convince you that your computer has been compromised by listing technical details and suggesting you have been recorded when visiting adult content websites.

Often criminals will list a password they have obtained via a previous data breach to try to put some legitimacy into their claim, or will attach a document which claims to be proof. This is all in an attempt to scare the victim into paying money, when in fact the sender has no such recordings and the attachments are malicious software.

DI Vinton added: “Many people enjoy the social side of the internet and it can be a great place to talk and interact with others.

"We do, however, all need to be aware that not everyone on the internet is who they say they are, and there are people out there whose only reason to be online is to cause harm to others.

“We have seen an increase in sexualised phishing e-mails, and would urge people not to worry about this, but to forward the e-mail to the suspicious email reporting service run by the National Cyber Security Centre."

Sexualised phishing emails can be reported to the Suspicious Email Reporting Service run by the National Cyber Security Centre at report@phishing.gov.uk.

Angus Macpherson, Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon said “Sextortion is a horrible crime which can have long lasting financial and emotional impact on the victims. No matter how embarrassing it may seem if you have fallen victim to one of these crimes, Wiltshire Police are here to investigate, but can only do so if you report it.

“Our victims support unit Horizon will be able to help at this most difficult time, offering support where appropriate, and signposting to the most suitable support agencies”

Further help and support for victims of sextortion is available from the National Crime Agency. https://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/what-we-do/crime-threats/kidnap-and-extortion/sextortion-webcam-blackmail For more information and advice on how to protect yourself against cybercrime visit the Wiltshire Police website https://www.wiltshire.police.uk/article/6081/Sexualised-Phishing-and-Sextortion