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Independent AfricaCriminals sell sextortion guides online - BBC investigation reveals


Criminals sell sextortion guides online – BBC investigation reveals


Criminals are selling guides on social media on how to conduct sextortion, BBC News has discovered.

The guides teach individuals to pose as young women online, deceive victims into sending explicit material, and then blackmail them.

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On Tuesday, Olamide Shanu appeared in a London court, accused of being part of a gang that extorted £2 million from adults and children online.

Last month, the National Crime Agency issued a warning to UK schools about the dangers of sextortion.

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Experts note a significant increase in children falling victim to sextortion by gangs based primarily in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa.

In the UK, two British teenagers have taken their own lives since October 2022 after being targeted by sextortionists.

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Paul Raffile, an intelligence professional and expert on sextortion, describes it as a “massive threat” to children.

“Internet scammers over these past two years have found out that they can get very rich very quickly by scamming an untapped market.

“And that’s teenagers,” he said.

Mr. Raffile said that adults have long been the target of sextortion, with teenage boys currently being among the most susceptible.

“They are finding their victims by going on social media platforms and searching for high schools and youth sports teams, and then ‘following’ or ‘friending’,” he said.

BBC News has found that guides on how to carry out the crime are openly for sale in videos posted online.

It is described in detail how to set up untraceable phone numbers, create fake social media profiles and use secure payment methods.

Some boast about the number of people they have blackmailed – one wrote that a victim paid him regularly, “every Friday”.

Lucy’s 14-year-old son fell victim to a sextortion gang this year.
Although he had not sent any images himself, the blackmailers mocked up a compromising picture and in a text threatened to share it.

“It was a message, basically saying, ‘don’t shut us down. If you don’t send us money in 24 hours, we’ll send a picture to all your contacts’,” she said.
“He was shell-shocked. And he was literally physically shaking.”

The teenager had already paid the blackmailers £100, but with his parents’ help he shut down the account and the phone. He never heard from the blackmailers again.

“If he hadn’t been at home that morning, and I hadn’t been in the kitchen, and if he hadn’t talked to me, I don’t know how it would have played out for him,” said Lucy.

The US authorities have applied to extradite Mr Shanu, who appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

The 33-year-old is wanted in the state of Idaho on charges of extortion, money laundering and cyberstalking.

The charges relate to four victims, one of whom was a child.

Investigators believe there may be hundreds of victims over three years.

Mr Raffile says the big Tech Companies are not doing enough to stop sextortion.

“This crime has really exploded on Instagram and Snapchat over these past two years… these platforms need to aggressively go after these criminals,” he said.

Snapchat told the BBC: “We’ve been ramping up our efforts to combat it including a reporting option specifically for threats to leak sexual content, and in-app education for teens.”

In a statement Meta, which owns Instagram, said it offered “a dedicated reporting option so people can report anyone threatening to share private images”.

“We default teens under 18 in the UK into private Instagram accounts at sign-up, which hides their follower and following lists, and into stricter default messaging settings,” it added.

TikTok said the platform was designed “to be inhospitable for that intent on causing harm to teens and we do not tolerate any content or behaviour promoting sextortion”.

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