Sextortion scams soar in lockdown as crooks target unwitting victims looking for love

SOARING numbers of people have fallen prey to sextortion as blackmail scams surge in lockdown.

Unwitting victims often make video calls thinking they are starting a genuine relationship with the person on the other screen.

They are tricked into being filmed in intimate detail before a demand for cash drops into their inbox — from anywhere in the world.

Blackmails reported to the police increased to record levels in the first lockdown in March.

They were more than a third higher than the same period of 2019 and have more than doubled in five years.

And with more people stuck at home on phones and PCs in the third lockdown, experts fear cases will carry on rising.

The scams have netted criminals thousands — and led to suicides.

Police recorded 3,459 cases of blackmail from April to June last year — well up from 2019’s 2,609 and 2017’s 1,779.

Just 51 of the 3,459 saw a suspect charged.

Police failed to identify the culprit in 1,553 cases while 1,116 were binned owing to problems gathering evidence.

Many more will not have been reported out of shame.

Actress Bella Thorne released nude selfies in 2019 after hackers threatened to leak them.

Wayne May, of website Scam Survivors, said: “We’ve seen reports of sextortion and romance scams rise in lockdowns.

“People shouldn’t feel alone nor that their lives are over — no matter how much the scammer threatens them.

"We advise — don’t panic, don’t pay the scammer and make it difficult for them to contact you.”

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