Preventing sextortion: a new Internet crime on the rise during COVID-19


DAKAR   The offence of sextortion consists of blackmailing and extorting sexual or monetary favours via the Internet from people whose compromising images or videos are in their possession. It is often called webcam blackmail. Sextortion is the main cause of complaints to police cybercrime units in most West African countries. Cyber-investigation makes it possible to combat this new form of crime.

Crimes such as online fraud, extortion and online sexual abuse of children that target individuals, and the use of ransom software to compromise systems - including hospitals, are on the rise, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to raise public awareness on how to avoid sextortion and protect young Internet users, the Global Programme on Cybercrime of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) organised a public webinar and Facebook Live session.

"Often the crime of sextortion is hidden, it is a silent crime. With this webinar, we helped to bring this crime to light. Together we are working to make our world safer and protect the most vulnerable," said Carmen Corbin, Cybercrime Adviser, UNODC Global Cybercrime Programme.

Nearly 800 people tuned in (767 on Facebook and 30 on Zoom) to the two panelists, Mr. Papa Djibril Ngom, Chief of Technical Services of the Special Division on Cybersecurity in Senegal, and Ms. Gigi Scoles, Resident Legal Adviser of the US Department of Justice - Office of Prosecutions, Development and Training.


More people (and potential victims) online

Global social distancing measures are now in place around the world. This has led to a significant increase in the use of online communication by public authorities, businesses and individuals.

Many people are not familiar with the use of online technology on this scale. This represents an opportunity for cybercriminals who see vulnerabilities to exploit. If you add to this distance working and distance learning, there are more Internet users who are unaware of threats and are likely to take more risks online at home, than at work or school. In addition, people are turning to new applications and software for online communication and entertainment.

Cybercriminals have evolved their criminality to exploit the social, legal and psychological nuances associated with COVID-19. School-aged children, who are the new and more frequent users of the Internet, are being proactively targeted by online sex offenders. These include the grooming and prostitution of individual children, to a wider infiltration into online classrooms, now known as "zoom-bombing".


What should you do if you are a victim of sextortion?

According to Officer Papa Djibril Ngom of the Special Cyber Security Division in Senegal, you should, "Contact your local police and Internet Service Provider immediately. The police will take your case seriously and will deal with it confidentially. They will not judge you for being in this situation. And stop communicating with criminals. Take screenshots of all your communications," he said. 

The moderator of the session, Kamal Touré of the UNODC's Global Programme against Cybercrime, added that "preventing sextortion is the best way to avoid it altogether. Never undress in front of a camera because there is no way of knowing where these images end up. Educating people about Internet safety is essential to prevent them from becoming victims.



How to protect children online:

  • Use parental controls
  • Do not let them use devices when they are alone.
  • Monitor their online activity
  • Don't give them their own appliances, or if you do, don't let them lock you out of the appliances.
  • Familiarize yourself with the applications or social networks your children use and be friends with them on social networks.