ONLINE perverts are grooming children in Inverclyde by trapping them into sending naked pictures and videos of themselves — then blackmailing them.
In what is known as ‘sextortion’, local youngsters from S1 age and upwards have received ‘friend’ requests on social media from criminals who subsequently threaten them with publicly posting images.
The Telegraph has learned that a number of young people here have fallen victim in recent months to sextortion gangs.
Police in the district are taking the increasing threat from the remote cyber blackmailers so seriously that senior officers have today issued an urgent appeal to parents and carers for increased vigilance.
It is understood the crooked adults — often resident in other countries — have been systematically trawling social media accounts of children within Inverclyde searching for vulnerable prey.
They take on the personas of young boys and girls in a bid to make their online approaches appear harmless — then follow it up with chat and pictures of a sexual nature.
Adults and children are now being urged to seek advice and information from the www.thinkuknow.co.uk website which contains specific and tailored help for different age groups.
It is operated by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) arm of the UK National Crime Agency.
Inverclyde’s police commander, Chief Inspector Debbie Reilly, said: “I am very concerned about the rising number of young people being targeted in this way.
“Thankfully, the victims in recent cases have had the courage to report these matters to their parents or the police, which has prevented others from falling victim.
“The criminals involved generally have immoral intentions which can range from sending indecent images to children, to blackmail or sextortion.”
In extreme cases elsewhere, victims have been so ashamed and embarrassed that they have resorted to self-harm and even suicide.
As well as children and young people, males and females of any age can become victims of sextortion criminals.
Chief Inspector Reilly said: “There is evidence that organised crime groups mostly based overseas are behind this crime.
“For them it’s a low risk way to make money and they can reach many victims easily online.”
Potential warning signs in victims include stress, depression, mood swings and marked changes in habits.
Commander Reilly said: “We want people to report cases to us and not suffer in silence.
“They should also not delete their social media accounts, merely deactivate them, so that important data and information is not lost.
“Don’t pay — preserve evidence and make a note of all details provided by the offenders, such as Skype IDs, Facebook URLs, money transfer numbers and any photos and videos that they have sent.
“Be aware that the scammer’s Skype name is different to their Skype ID, and it’s the ID details that we need.
“To get that, right click on their profile, select ‘view profile’ and then look for the name shown in blue rather than the one above it in black.
“It’ll be next to the word ‘Skype’ and will have no spaces in it.”
The chief inspector added: “Victims are often worried about reporting these offences to the police because they are embarrassed.
“If this has happened to you and you’re under 18 please talk to an adult that you trust. It may feel like there is no way out, but there are professionals who can help you.”
Source : GreenockTelegraph