Police have issued a warning that children in the county are being lured into sending sexually explicit images online and then blackmailed.
This is often described as ‘sextortion’ – where someone threatens to share those sexual pictures or videos of the victim unless they do something in return, such as pay them.
Since May this year there have been at least 17 incidents reported, with Instagram and Snapchat being the main platform the boys and girls have been approached on.
An unknown individual will send the child a friend request on a social media or messaging platform, and build a rapport with the young person – often making them believe they are of a similar age to them.
The conversation will then become sexualised, and the offenders will request sexual images or videos or video call them. Once these have been sent, they will then blackmail the victim by threatening to release the images or video to their family, friends or on other online platforms such as YouTube, if they do not pay them in money or gift cards.
In Gloucestershire children as young as 10 have been approached online, with the most common age being around 16-years-old. In some cases victims have lost money.
Police are now issuing a warning to parents and carers, and asking them to have conversations with children about online safety and the risk criminals pose online.
Detective Inspector Cheryl Godwin, of the Child Exploitation, Missing and Mental Health team, said: “There is likely a huge under-reporting of these type of offences, as children may feel embarrassed or ashamed of what’s happened.
“It can be hugely upsetting for the child for this to happen to them, and leave them extremely fearful of what may happen next.
“If you have found yourself in this situation please try not to panic – stop all communication with the person and if you are being asked for money, do not pay them. Instead screen capture any evidence where you can and contact police.
“These offenders exploit the vulnerability of children – and we would urge parents and carers to remind children that control is lost as soon as an explicit image is sent to anyone, and many images inevitably end up being shared and spread online.”
For information about how to start conversations with a child on this topic visit: https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/parents/articles/Nude-selfies-a-parents-guide/
Any parent or carer who is worried about the way someone has been communicating with their child online can visit the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) command website at: https://www.ceop.police.uk/Safety-Centre/
Anyone who has been a victim of this crime should contact police online Report a crime | Gloucestershire Constabulary or call police on 101.