‘Sextortion’ gangs blackmail 30 teenagers a day by luring them into webcam sex acts using fake women’s profiles

Teenagers trapped in webcam sex stings are being blackmailed by foreign “sextortion gangs”.

At least 30 Britons a day fall for the webcam sex scams. Some British victims of African gangs have committed suicide, a Mirror investigation reveals today. Police said: “We just see the tip of the iceberg.”

At least four victims have killed themselves after webcam ­blackmailers tricked them into performing online sex acts.

The “sextortionists”, often based thousands of miles away in Africa or Asia, use stolen pictures and fake profiles to con people into thinking they are having genuinely intimate one-on-one video calls.

These are recorded and victims are told footage of their sex session will be made public and sent to friends and family unless they send cash.

One teenager stung by an Ivory Coast gang told his blackmailer after being online for just 100 minutes: “I’d rather go and shoot myself, you f***ing trash making people do this.”

The coldhearted criminal replied: “I thank you I want your money more I will share your video bye?”

Minutes later, the victim typed his suicide note which read: “I was getting blackmailed by someone for £800 so they sent a video around of me and ruined my life.

“I am so sorry … but this is the only way out.”

In the morning, he was found dead.

The Daily Mirror went to Africa to find how this teenager and another Briton were driven to take their own lives by criminals in the Ivory Coast.


We found police there struggling to cope with the rackets operating via a network of scammers, internet cafes and Western Union cash transfers.

The National Crime Agency had 1,245 cases of “financially motivated webcam blackmail” reported to their Anti-Kidnap and Extortion Unit in 2016, up more than threefold on 2015.

But experts believe the true figure could be 10 times higher.

Some are ambushed as they browse social media, some are looking for love on dating sites and others are tricked by pop-up ads on porn websites.

Roy Sinclair, from the police unit, said: “There is huge under-reporting of these kinds of offences, often because victims feel ashamed or embarrassed but of course criminals rely on that reaction to succeed.”

The tragic English teenager had killed himself after being lured into a Skype chat with a “pretty brunette”.

Police believe the victim, who we agreed not to name, was tricked into sexual activity in front of his webcam.

The Ivorian extortionist, who set up the fake Skype profile, sent his victim a picture of the sex act, threatening to post it on YouTube and share it with Facebook friends and family. He also vowed to make the baseless claim that the teenager had been watching ­child-sex abuse videos at the time.

He sent a link for a Western Union account and demanded £800. The youngster tried to send £350. But his bank blocked it, suspecting fraud.

The same Ivorian Skype user had targeted another potential victim on Facebook , just five days earlier, posing as a 22-year-old Texan brunette.

But pictures of “Daniella” had been stolen. Officers traced the Skype and fake Facebook accounts to the Ivory Coast, as well as two mobile phone numbers linked to a Western Union account used in the extortion bid.

Ivorian Cybercrime police found the mobile numbers allegedly belonged to a man called Ouare Yaya.

He is on the run but had withdrawn cash from Western Union branches. He was linked to a cashier called Kouadio Eoule, 33, accused of letting Yaya withdraw £164 sent by a victim.

But our victim made no payments to the blackmailer, so any withdrawal could not be directly linked to his suicide. We visited Eoule in Maca jail in the business capital of Abidjan. He said: “If they don’t find Yaya I’ll go to jail for 10 years. I’m finished.

“I had nothing to do with this. Tell his parents I didn’t know anything.”

UK police said inquiries into the suicide were ongoing and they hope to extradite the blackmailer, if caught, to face up to 14 years in jail. But tough cybercrime laws introduced in the Ivory Coast in 2013 mean offenders face up to 20 years and £164,000 fines.

The cruel scam is called “chantage” there and police are investigating links to a second British suicide, two in Italy, two in France and one in Canada.

But these are deaths recorded in one country. Two other British victims have been linked to other countries. One Ivory Coast victim was a closet bisexual whose male blackmailers threatened to tell his wife. Another was a Government minister in Mali.

The Ivory Coast has overtaken ­Nigeria as the capital of cybercrime in Africa. Half the population live in poverty and cybercrooks earn ­thousands of pounds a month.

Ivory Coast anti-cybercrime chief Colonel Guelpetchin Ouattara said: “We try to raise awareness but UK authorities must make people aware. I feel sorry for victims. They’re not stupid. They don’t know the risks.”

With piles of files on his desk, colleague Capitaine Seyo Kebe Mallon said many of the big web firms were not helping. He said: “We sent requests for information to Hotmail, Facebook and Skype. They ignored us.” Victims range from 14 to 82 but are mostly 21 to 30 years old, says the UK National Crime Agency. One NCA investigator, “John”, said scammers manipulate webcam sex tapes to fool victims into thinking they are live and real.

He said: “Victims are normally male and enticed by a young lady. In a matter of hours, you are enticed into doing something silly on camera.

“They encourage you to friend them on Facebook. That’s how they get your address book.

“Once they have it, they begin sending threatening messages and you become subjected to blackmail for hundreds of pounds or low thousands.

He said: “We still think we are seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

Stephan Konan, advisor to the Ivorian Interior Ministry, told the Mirror at this year’s ShieldAfrica security conference: “Criminals who used to rob people on the streets now go into cyber cafes and rob them online. Thats a phenomenon that is not going to stop.

“There are 950 million smart phones in Africa. IT penetration is growing very fast. We need to assess the situation, adapt our laws and train our police forces.

“A cybercriminal can make €5,000 (£4,300) a week. The big kingpins can make ten times more than that.”

Sextortion advice

1 Don’t panic. Police will take it seriously, deal with it in private and won’t judge you. You’re not alone.

2 Don’t pay. You’ll keep getting demands. If you paid, see if the money has been collected. If so, note where. If not, cancel payment.

3 Don’t communicate further with the criminals. Take screen shots of all your communication. Suspend your Facebook or other accounts (but don’t delete, to preserve evidence) and use online reporting processes to notify Skype, YouTube etc to have video blocked and to set up an alert.

4 Keep evidence. Make a note of all details provided by offenders. Don’t delete any messages.

5 Remember, you are the victim of organized criminals and confidential support is available.

6 Contact us, we can help.

Don’t feel ashamed, it’s a crime and police will help

By Dr Emma Short and Prof Jim Barnes from the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research, University of Bedfordshire

It’s not unusual for young adults to begin sexual contact online.

And an approach from sextortionists feels no different from genuine online sex chat. Trust can soon be established as the blackmailer strips or initiates sex.

In a generation generally well educated in sexual health and safety, this kind of activity can be seen as “safe sex”. But sextortion cases have trebled in a year and only 30% of victims ever tell anyone because of shame, embarrassment and self-blame. The risk of suicide can be high, especially among young men. Individuals are reluctant to report it and as demands for money or exposure rise, they often feel there is no way out.

But, in our National Centre for Cyberstalking Research work with Bedfordshire Police we find officers are very sympathetic to victims of this crime.