Four men killed themselves in the last year after being blackmailed as part of a growing cyber “sextortion” racket.
International gangs of organised criminals are targeting more and more young men by luring them into performing sex acts on webcams, the National Crime Agency said.
The number of people reporting financially motivated cyber-enabled blackmails more than doubled from 385 in 2015 to 864 up to November 2016.
This number has risen from just nine in 2011.
Sextortion is where criminals use fake identities to befriend victims online before persuading them to perform indecent acts in front of their webcam.
The images are recorded by the criminals who then threaten to share them with the victims’ friends and family unless they pay them.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for kidnap and extortion and adult sexual offences, Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, said: “The really key point is that as a result of this criminality, we have had four young men in the United Kingdom who have killed themselves because they saw no way out of a situation that they had gotten into.”
He added:”Firstly, we are providing information to police forces to better equip them to deal with these crimes when they are reported.
“Perhaps more important is a public awareness campaign to make not only potential victims, but all those around them really raise awareness to what is a very damaging and invidious crime.”
The National Crime Agency and the National Police Chiefs’ Council have launched a new campaign to advise those who have been, or are likely to be, targeted.
Hewitt continued: “It targets people that are in social chat applications of one description or another, predominantly men, although we have seen some cases with women as the victim.”
The NCA said the victims are aged between 14 and 82, with the highest proportion being men aged between 21 and 30, and with a substantial proportion in the 11-20 age group.
It also added that the criminal groups identified were working out of Morocco, the Philippines and the Ivory Coast.
Last year more than 40 arrests were made in the Philippines, and there is one ongoing international prosecution connected to one of the suicides reported this year.
In one case the victim had been told “your life is over, you may as well go and kill yourself”.
The NCA’s advice to any potential targets is: “Do not panic, do not pay, do not communicate and preserve evidence”.