Gatineau police see rise in sextortion cases during pandemic
Number of people reporting blackmail over online sex acts jumps almost 50 per cent
Gatineau police are reporting a rise in "sextortion" cases — in which criminals use fake identities to trick people into performing sexual acts in front of a webcam, and then blackmail victims with the recorded images.
From the beginning of the year until Nov. 30, the Gatineau Police Service said 46 victims came forward, up from 31 cases last year.
"It's a big increase for that type of crime," said Gatineau police spokesperson Andrée East.
The most common victims in Gatineau are men in their 20s, who police say are likely turning to the internet more often to meet people this year because of COVID restrictions.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has seen a similar jump in youths being exploited online. Calls to cybertip.ca are up 88 per cent since April 1, according to director Stephen Sauer.
"We saw a lot of youth who were locked down in their houses. The only avenue they had to communicate with other, similar age peers, was through technology," Sauer said.
Sauer said cybertip.ca callers are reporting that they are being asked to provide sexual photos to someone over the internet, or being communicated with in a sexual manner, and "they're connecting with individuals that they may or may not know."
Scammers based overseas
Police believe the majority of the blackmailers targeting people in Gatineau are based outside of Canada.
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The scammers sometimes make contact with their victim through social media and then suggest the conversation moves onto a different platform that will allow them to record the interaction. The blackmailers sometimes broadcast a pre-recorded video that has been edited to make the victim believe they are engaging in a live chat with a real person.
"It's very sophisticated, some of this stuff that goes on in the extortion space online," Sauer said.
"They're searching for easy victims. If they don't get compliance from a victim right away, they'll move on to the next target."
Ottawa police have seen a small but steady number of cases, without any COVID-related spike. In a statement to CBC, OPS said this could be because "many victims do not report these types of incidents."
Gatineau police believe a public awareness campaign they ran in 2014 could be the reason more victims are coming forward on the Quebec side of the river.
Both police services are warning people to be on their guard. East said it should be a red flag "if someone wants to get really intimate, really quickly with you on the internet."
"Never agree to perform a sexual act in front of a webcam, even if it's someone that you trust," she said. "You never know what could happen with those images."