NEWS

'Sextortion' Of Canadian Teens Spikes 40%, Prompts Warning

09/24/2015 09:32 EDT | Updated 09/24/2016 05:12 EDT
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection says it has seen a 40 per cent spike in teenage "sextortion" in the past six months.

Nearly half of the victims are teenage boys, and the statistics are so significant that it has prompted the Winnipeg-based agency to issue a warning to parents across the country.

"We need to get in front of this," said Signy Arnason, director of Cybertip.ca, one of the programs operated by the centre. "We don't want to see any more kids subjected to this."

Predators are meeting their victims in online game chat rooms and social media sites like Facebook, Arnason said.

Their conversations start off harmless. The teen is then invited to engage in a private chat over Skype.

Eventually they're coerced into taking off their clothes or performing a sex act on a webcam. The victim thinks they are talking to someone their own age, but they're not.

The video is then used to extort money or additional sexual content from the teen.

"What we're seeing for the most part is that they're in fact going after money," said Arnason. "So what they'll do is, they'll threaten that they've now got this sexual content [and] that they're going to post it online."

Arnason said the child advocacy group receives a tip a week from a teen victim. She calls that "a big deal" because most will never come forward to report what's happening to them. 

"We are imploring parents to get in there and have these good discussions with their kids," said Arnason. "If you leave it alone you're putting them at risk, especially if you know part of what they're doing is going on live webcam." 

There are three key points Arnason urges parents to make with their children.

First, know the person on the other side of the live cam. She says there are computer programs out there that allow predators to play pre-recorded videos over a live stream. For example, they might play a video of an attractive teenage girl undressing to entice a teenage boy to do the same.

Second, it's simple to record what's streaming over a live camera without the other person knowing. 

"As a teenager you live in the here and now, you think you've done something, it's live it's over" Arnason said. "They're not contemplating and considering that the person on the other side is quite easily recording everything they're doing which is then used against them" 

Lastly, don't ever comply with a predator demands, whether it's sending money or making another video.

"We don't want teens to be sucked into this threat that the stuff will be posted online when in most cases they're seeking money and if they don't get it they're just moving onto the next one," said Arnason.

She says more often than not the videos don't end up online, even if a victim refuses to pay.  

"In most cases they're seeking money and if they don't get it they're just moving onto the next one," said Arnason.

That sentiment is echoed by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. 

"Do not pay," said spokesman Daniel Williams. "All you are doing is making them determined to do this to more people. If it stops paying, they'll stop doing it".

Williams says there have been cases where a perpetrator has uploaded a video onto YouTube, but it was taken down after the victim contacted the website. 

West African gangs suspected

In 2012, the federal government agency received four complaints about "sextortion." One person had been victimized and lost $100 as a result. So far this year, 23 victims have come forward, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

"We're lucky to see one to three per cent of what's out there, and that's in normal fraud cases. Not something as embarrassing as 'sextortion,'" said Williams.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre believes many of the cases are committed by west African gangs.

"Victims are being told to send $800 or $1500 to Western Union in the Ivory Coast or Senegal or, 'I'll put it on YouTube,'" said Williams.

Arnason also urges parents to report their concerns to Cybertip.ca. 

Since 2005, the tip line has received more than 160,000 reports of online sexual exploitation of children. Those tips have led to about 500 arrests.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says that so far this year, it has had 120 sextortion-related complaints: 

2012 

- 4 complaints

- 1 victim

- $100 loss

2013

- 97 complaints

- 16 victims

- $26,000 loss

2014 

- 195 complaints

- 32 victims

- $85,000 loss

2015

- 120 complaints

- 23 victims

- $27,000 loss

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