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Cyber scams take advantage of hope and trust



Cases of cyber blackmail are less prominent than cyberbullying but can have the same devastating impact on victims. Arrests have been made over online blackmailing attempts where hackers have corrupted the websites of large companies and demanded money, but individual cases are less well known.


Blackmailers threaten to send embarrassing or incriminating images of someone which have been captured through a webcam to friends, family or colleagues unless money is paid, but because of the nature of cases they are rarely reported.


One children's charity said Daniel Perry's death is the first time it has come across cyber blackmailing and called for more education for young people. NSPCC policy analyst Claire Lilley said: "We've seen plenty of cases coming through ChildLine where children are experiencing serious cyberbullying at the hands of their peers and also being groomed by sexual predators, but this is the first time we have really seen extortion happening, via the internet, of a young person.


"Children and young people love the internet to learn, explore and connect with people like them all over the world. But it's about teaching them that not everyone is who they say they are and teaching them how to respect one another in terms of their behaviour online."


Research published last year exploring dating site scams, which have typically persuaded victims to send money, shows scammers are now focusing more on social networking sites - blackmailing victims with photos, videos and records of explicit or incriminating chats.


The research by Professor Monica Whitty of the University of Leicester confirmed the profound psychological impact on victims, describing the "double hit" experienced by victims through loss of money and romantic prospect.


Other victims reported missing the relationship even when they knew it was a scam, with heterosexual men expressing feelings of shame that they felt emotionally attached to someone revealed to be male.


"Awareness might be a preventive measure, but one of the problems is that victims had told that they were being scammed and it didn't stop them, so it has to be a message that individuals buy into," said Whitty. Her research also found that victims were from all age groups, but only slightly more likely to be male.


An estimated 230,000 people in the UK had fallen victim, though police believe that many victims do not come forward, either through embarrassment or hope the "romance" will turn out to be real. The Scam Survivors website has a rogues' gallery of scam profile pictures alongside the perpetrators, who are generally rather less glamorous.


According to the victims posting on Scam Survivors, scammers are using a huge range of sites and apps to find victims, from Facebook, Skype and Chatroulette to niche adult chat and dating sites, its listings of the curious and the lonely offering rich pickings for scammers.


Advice is always the same for victims of online blackmail: do not give them any money. Block them from your contacts and change your settings to block unknown users. Report abuse to the service provider and contact the police.


Social media are becoming more transient, with older posts harder to dig out of archives and popular apps like Snapchat allowing messages to self-destruct after a few seconds. But there are now even apps specifically for saving Snapchat photos and videos.