Sextortion explained: The sinister scam catching Kiwi kids

Sextortion. It's a crime.

You might never have heard of it but it's happening a lot more than ram raids. And the consequences are truly frightening.  

This is about our young kids and young people taking nude pictures of themselves and sharing them, and then getting blackmailed because of them.  

It leads to shame and that leads to anguish, anxiety, fear and depression. Potentially much worse.   

It is the latest online scam and it is a massive problem.  

According to police and Netsafe, Kiwi kids are getting caught out nearly every day.

What exactly is sextortion?

The official definition of sextortion is: when a criminal threatens to distribute explicit images or videos unless their victim satisfies a demand.   

So where do they get these images from? Usually the victim. 

One study says about 80 percent were taken and shared by the victim themselves.  

And you’d be surprised by how many kids share this sort of picture, every day. 

In 2017, a Netsafe survey found the number of teens in this country who had shared an explicit picture of themselves was 4 percent.

That was six years ago. Netsafe hadn't asked that question since then so we did a survey of our own.

It's an informal one - on social media. But that number is now 40 percent. 

There are four main ways police tell us sextortion happens. 

In 60 percent of police cases, the criminal used a fake social media account to gain confidence and got victims to share a photo. They usually pretend to be in a relationship with them. 

In about a quarter of cases, the criminal got the victim to show themselves naked on a webcam, and then secretly recorded them. It's called "capping" (like screen-capturing). 

Twenty percent of the time, the explicit images were stolen by hacking into a computer.  

And sometimes the criminal was bluffing - just pretending to have naked pictures. 

Sextortion is on the rise in New Zealand. From practically no sextortion reported in 2020 to almost 250 cases a month now. 

And that's only the ones who report it.  

Police told Paddy Gower Has Issues that, last year, there were 27 reports a month. That's one per day. 

This year, that figure has doubled; 58 reports a month so far in 2023.  

And remember, this could be the tip of the iceberg - these are just the people who overcame the embarrassment and shame and actually reported it. 

How many stay quiet? Nobody knows. 

What about the money?  

The police tell Paddy Gower Has Issues most people refuse to pay, which is the right thing to do. Don’t give in to the demands. 

Only 27 percent actually pay up. 

Kiwis have paid $153,000 (between 2020-2022) to sextortionists - that the police know of.  

But the real cost is of course the pain, anguish, anxiety and depression that this crime inflicts. 

So what is the solution?

We need to treat sextortion like the crime it is. We need to worry about it, talk about it and treat it like we treat ram raids. 

It might not have the smashed shop fronts but the damage is just as real - there are truly frightening consequences here. 

And let's be clear - the victims have got nothing to be ashamed of.  

We need to take advice from Charlotte, one of the victims who spoke to Paddy Gower Has Issues. 

Her message to others? "I'm not ashamed to be a victim of sending nudes. It's a mistake. It's not your fault."

That's a special message. 

We need to take the shame out of sextortion. 

That takes the power away from the criminals and helps the victims to take the power back. 

Patrick Gower is the host of Paddy Gower Has Issues on Three and ThreeNow.

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