A rising number of Australian boys are being blackmailed into paying "impossibly" high sums of money to online predators who have masqueraded as a teenage girl to lure them into sending nude photos and compromising videos.
The twist of demanding cash was a grim new tactic increasingly being used by international sex offenders on unsuspecting and vulnerable minors and teens, the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation warned.
Reports involving boys who had been groomed into producing explicit images and then extorted for money have more than quadrupled over the past year, according to Australian Federal Police.
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"Tactics can vary, but child sex offenders commonly pose as girls and befriend boys via social media platforms, image-sharing apps or online games," AFP Commander for the ACCCE Hilda Sirec said, explaining the techniques used to target victims.
Once the pair connected, the "girl" would request they communicate privately and engage in sexualised conversations before sending explicit images of her fake self, which had often been sourced from a victim of previous offending.
The boy is then be asked to send nude images or videos in return.
Sirec said the predator might also manipulate the boy into engaging in explicit activity on camera, which was secretly recorded.
"These predators reveal they had footage of the child in compromising positions and demand money in return for not sharing the vision with family and friends or posting it online," she said.
"We have seen predators initially demanding an impossibly large sum of money, then negotiating with the victim on a lower amount they could actually pay."
Hiding the crime from their families, victims will often make payment by bank transfer, in online games, gift cards or cryptocurrencies.
Once that money was paid, the predator would demand even more money, she said.
Any images and videos sent by minors will often end up on child abuse material forums on the dark web.
"They are not deterred by the age of the victim," Sirec said.
"They care only about the profit they can make."
Law enforcement agencies around the world are seeing a rise in the number of boys being blackmailed for money, and the AFP has identified a growing trend of self-produced child exploitation material – where young people are coerced to take naked pictures of themselves and send those images via email or text.
"These crimes have devastating effects on children and their families," Sirec said.
"These offenders are very manipulative and they will threaten and frighten children to get what they want, including telling victims they will be in trouble with law enforcement if they speak up."
Cases of sexual extortion involving children (under the age of 18) can be reported to accce.gov.au/report or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.