Sextortion: 'I sent a nude and was blackmailed for money'

Teenage boy
Police have warned teenage lives could be lost due to the rising number of sextortion cases

A 15-year-old boy said he feared his life would be ruined after falling victim to a so-called sextortion scam.

Jack, not his real name, was sent intimate photographs of a girl he thought he was talking to online and sent nude pictures in return.

But scammers then asked him for money and threatened to leak the images online.

Police have warned teenage lives could be lost due to the rising number of sextortion cases.

In north Wales alone there was a 98% increase in reported incidents of the crime last year, with 349 cases reported between Sept 2022 and Sept 2023.

North Wales Police officer David Williams described the figures as "terrifying".

"Embarrassment for a teenage boy is a poor photograph or maybe a spotty complexion. Sextortion is traumatic," he said.

What is sextortion?

Victims of sextortion are typically enticed into sending explicit photos and videos to strangers they have befriended online.

They are then told the images and their contact details will be made public unless they pay money.

Anyone can be a victim, though typically teenage boys are targeted with some as young as 13, according to North Wales Police.

"At first I just thought I was talking to a girl online, I didn't realise what was happening until it was too late," Jack, who is from north Wales, said.

Child using smartphone
There are concerns about growing numbers of teenage boys falling victim to sextortion scammers online

"I was scared, thinking it was not only going to ruin my life now, but in the future too," he said.

"Immediately after I felt shame and embarrassment."

Jack's mum Katie, not her real name, said she was thankful that her son could tell her what had happened.

She said it was important children knew they could be open about such topics.

"I've had conversations with him for years about internet safety, I had assumed it had gone in," she said.

"It's important you're there to support them. Ultimately they are a victim."

'Distressed and concerned'

Katie said Jack suggested he would harm himself if the images went viral.

"I know it's quite common for boys to be quite dramatic at times, but you could hear the seriousness and the undertone to his voice," she said.

"I think if he had no one he could turn to, I think that could be a reality for him and other children out there."

David Williams, who has been in policing for 44 years, said blackmail was something that used to happen "maybe twice a year".

He feared the growing numbers of case being reported now were only "the tip of the iceberg".

"Let's be honest about it, you can see we are going to lose somebody, there's no doubt about it," he added.

In 2015, a teenager in Northern Ireland took his own life hours after scammers sent intimate images to his friends.

Ronan Hughes, who was 17, had been tricked into sending the images as part of a sextortion scam.

A Romanian man was later sentenced to four years in prison after a specialist cyber crime unit traced the computer he had used to blackmail the teenager.

'It's not your fault - it's theirs'

Hayley Laskey from the Revenge Porn Helpline - which supports adults who have had intimate images shared without consent - described callers as "extremely distressed and concerned".

"We feel like this is dominating a lot of our calls and emails at the moment, we've definitely seen a rise. Over a third of our cases are sextortion," she said.

"We need to take the stigma away of victim blaming. It's not your fault, it's theirs."

The helpline has published advice on what to do if you or someone you know falls victim to a sextortion scam, which includes blocking the blackmailer and then reporting them.

You can see more on this story in Wales Live, available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

If you, or someone you know, have been affected by any of the issues or topics covered in this story, you can visit BBC Action Line to find information and organisations that can help.