Cybercrime has undergone an alarming rise in the recent past with criminals taking to various social media platforms to launch sextortion scams on unsuspecting users. There are nearly 900 police reports of such blackmail and sextortion, according to reports.

Victims are often duped by cybercrooks into performing sexual acts on webcams and are then blackmailed into paying up or the clips would end up on social media. Male victims are generally targeted by scammers – posing as young women – and are engaged into a conversation and later persuading into performing sex acts. Such crimes have reportedly doubled since 2015, shedding light on the lax attitude that users have towards security on social media.

A 60-year-old victim was quoted by the Guardian as saying, "They [the perpetrators] said 'Now I've recorded you. If you don't pay me I'll put the video all over Facebook and YouTube'. My instant thought was that I had no choice and that I'd pay anything, because I thought that if they posted the video it would ruin my business and family relationships," said a 60-year-old victim

Speaking about sharing post online, professor Tim Watson director of the Cybersecurity Centre at the University of Warwick said, "When we are publishing on social media, we don't see that as being public because we are at home working at a laptop. It does not feel like it is outside so the indicators we are getting are that we are in a safe space."

According to the National Crime Agency (NCA), escalating cases of sextortion have resulted in four deaths over the past year. Officials estimate that victims of such cybercrime could number in the thousands.

NCA's Roy Sinclair, from the anti-kidnap and extortion unit said, "Previously people have been hesitant to come forward because of that embarrassment factor, this idea that it could affect them personally or career-wise. So they don't come forward and they pay."

However, professor Watson explained that victims "should not feel embarrassed" for being duped.

Cyber sextortion scams on the rise as cybercrooks cash in on 'safe' spaces on social media
Such crimes have reportedly doubled since 2015, shedding light on the lax attitudes users have toward security on social media iStock

"Everybody falls for them. Computer security professionals will fall for them. And it is not fair to turn around to someone who has become a victim and say 'Why did you click on that link? Don't click on a friend request from strangers'," Watson said.

He continued, "These people are not strangers because they may have already become friends with some of your friends. How do you protect yourself against this? It is quite difficult, you just have to have that sceptical voice inside your head and there are other ways of contacting people."

How to stay safe?

Experts have advised social media users to proceed with caution when dealing with friend requests from strangers. It is also advisable to check their activities across other social media platforms thoroughly and verify their identity.

ESET security specialist Mark James has encouraged users to "check their background or history, see how long they've been active."

He also suggested that users "try searching other services – chances are they will be active on different platforms if they are legitimate."

James added, "Be very wary of requests for photos or videos and always remember, once you post something you have no control on what others do with it – regardless of if you think it's secure and safe, it's never 100% private."