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Police highlight cybercrime trends and urge internet users to stay safe online

by Guy Murphy

This Safer Internet Day 2024, today (Tuesday, 6 February), Merseyside Police is raising awareness of online safety and urging internet users to avoid becoming victims of growing cybercrime trends in sextortion, sexting and cryptocurrency fraud.

Safer Internet Day is coordinated by the UK Safer Internet Centre. This international event has taken place each February since 2004 and aims to raise awareness of a safer and better internet for all and protect users from fraud, theft, abuse and exploitation.

Merseyside Police is getting behind the event and encouraging everyone to properly protect their email, social media and other accounts, and ensure familiarity with the scams and risks associated with sharing sexual content of themselves online, and too-good-to-be-true cryptocurrency investment opportunities.

Cybercrime is not limited by borders and often the criminals behind these scams are operating overseas. Across the UK, these types of crimes are reported in the thousands each year. In Merseyside alone, there were 530 reports of sextortion between 1 April 2023 and 31 December 2023.

Detective Inspector John Black from Merseyside Police Cyber Unit said: “We are supporting this day of awareness to warn children, young people and adults of the dangers of being manipulated online. Cybercrime is a growing type of criminality, and this year we are highlighting three topics of concern that affect victims of all ages.

“The first is sextortion, which is a form of blackmail, and we take all reports of this extremely seriously. It involves someone threatening to share information, images or videos of a sexual nature featuring the victim unless they do something for them. Typically, the demand will be to pay the extortionist money, often in a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin.

“Criminals often target people who use dating apps, social media or live streaming platforms, or websites related to pornography. They might pretend to be someone else online and become friends with the victim who is then lured into performing sexual acts in front of their webcam. Unbeknown to the victim, their acts are recorded by criminals.

“The second topic we are raising awareness about is sexting, which is when someone sends a sexual message, photo, video or live stream to someone else. Whilst this might be done between consenting adults, problems can arise at a later date with non-consensual sharing of this content, leading to offences relating to what is often referred to as ‘revenge porn’.

“Of particular concern is sexting involving children and young people. It is of course an offence to make, distribute, possess or show indecent images of anyone aged under 18, even if the content was created with the consent of that young person. It should be remembered that indecent imagery is not limited to nudity, and the law is intended to protect children and not criminalise them. We urge parents and guardians to familiarise themselves with the warning signs that children may be at risk, and what to do if they think their child has been involved in sexting.

“And finally, awareness of cryptocurrency investment fraud. Cryptocurrency is a digital version of cash that exists outside the established framework of national governments and central and private banks. Bitcoin, the world’s oldest and best-known cryptocurrency, has only been around since 2009 and is at the centre of a phenomenon that for many people is intriguing. Unfortunately, the allure of getting in on something relatively new in the hope that its value increases is something that criminals are taking advantage of.

“Criminals exploit the turbulence of the cryptocurrency markets, rushing people into investment, pretending they are buying in at the right time. The variety of scams is abundant, so we would advise against rushing into any investment – be vigilant, research properly and don’t be fooled by the apparent success of others on social media, even if they appear to be people you know.

“Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If something goes wrong with a cryptocurrency investment you are unlikely to get your money back, because most schemes are not covered by the UK’s Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

“We work with other law enforcement agencies to identify offenders and bring them to justice, but the best way you can protect yourself is to be aware of cybercrime and the risks associated with sharing personal or intimate content online with others. You should also make sure you have secure passwords and wherever possible use two-factor authentication to help protect email, social media and other accounts.”

As part of Safer Internet Day, officers from the force’s Cyber Unit have been delivering talks at schools, universities and community centres across Merseyside to help students protect themselves online and provide information and signposting for parents and teachers.

Although this work to protect the communities of Merseyside from cybercrime goes on throughout the year, Safer Internet Day is an ideal opportunity to raise awareness and help keep people safe online.

Advice and guidance for children, young people and adults is available at:

To report any of the crimes that are highlighted through Safer Internet Day, please contact the Merseyside Police social media desk on X @MerPolCC or Facebook ‘Merseyside Police Contact Centre’, or by reporting on the Merseyside Police website at: www.merseyside.police.uk

If you’ve already paid a sextortion ransom or if you suspect you have been the victim of any other online fraud such as a cryptocurrency scam, visit Action Fraud for advice and report it: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk

If you have information about those committing cybercrime, you can pass information via Crimestoppers anonymously, on 0800 555 111 or via their online form at: crimestoppers-uk.org