Social media and online gaming have advanced exponentially since 2010. The rise in juveniles pushing to such networks has risen even more rapidly. With the rise in children entering such online environments, there has also been a significant shift in the number of online offenders doing the same. All offenders, whether individuals or part of a syndicate have well and truly identified this rise and have responded accordingly. They are now targeting children in much higher numbers and quite often becoming more successful for one main reason; Teens will not report in anywhere near as high numbers as adults!

Crimes which were once only ever experienced by adults are now affecting juveniles in huge numbers. Over the past 5years in particular, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of teenagers approaching me for assistance with some of the most serious of matters. Kids are making errors of judgement online and as their navigation of online environments grow with age, they are being exposed to more and more significant risk. One of the most concerning crimes being experienced by juveniles in more recent times is Sextortion.



Example 1;
James is 11years of age and an online gamer. He plays Fortnite almost daily in the games-room and is checked on regularly by his parents. James is allowed to make purchases of V-bucks (Fortnite gaming currency) with a $50.00 pre-paid game card, which his parents buy for him 2 or 3 times a year. James is chatting with 'Randoms' (strangers) all the time on Fortnite, but he does not tell his parents this is happening as much as it is.

James has been chatting with an older boy named Mark on Fortnite for a few days. Mark pushes James to Discord, which is an online chat environment used predominantly by the gaming community. James creates an account and is now chatting with Mark in that environment. Mark starts to groom James and soon identifies he has run out of money on his gaming card. Mark makes a simple statement which is innocently accepted by James; "If you send me a silly photo, I will send you 200 V-bucks!". So, James sends a silly photo, pulling a funny face. As promised, he receives the currency into his Fortnite account from Mark. The next day, Mark asks for another silly photo; "I dare you to send me a pic of your bum!" Whilst checking where Mum and Dad are first, James scoots off to the toilet with his iPad and takes a quick pic. He then sends that to Mark and receives another ammount of V-bucks.

After 6months, James is groomed by Mark, who was in fact a 36year old UK sex offender, into sharing a total of 270 private images and videos. All with the continued supply of V-bucks and all the while James assuming it was another young boy he was interacting with. James images were retained and distributed by this offender through a paedophile network.


Example 2;
Alex is 15years of age and a regular visitor to the Omegle website. Omegle is a video chat site where people can interact cam to cam live with strangers all around the world. Alex had been interacting with a girl he was led to believe was aged 16 from Brazil. They were having general conversation on Omegle for 10minutes, before the chat turned sexual. Both Alex and this girl engaged in sexual acts on camera. Alex was encouraged to show his face at the same time and did so.

The girl, who was actually a 23year old scammer from the Philippines, recorded the boy and demanded money from him under threat of releasing the video online to his family and friends. Alex read out his parents credit card number to the scammer and $500.00 was removed from the card.

Sextortion is happening in huge numbers across the country. If you said to me 12 years ago, when I was working at Tech Crime that I would be today speaking with Australian children about sextortion, I never would have believed you. But sadly, this is one of the most common matters being self-reported to me by Australian teenagers (especially boys) today. Such self-generated content now makes up a considerable percentage of all current online child sexual abuse material on the internet.

In Australian homes where parents may not be present or where restrictions are not in place, the risk of being exposed to such harms increases significantly. Poorly designed gaming and social networking environments which almost encourage children to interact with strangers without appropriate moderation, are setting up our kids to get caught out. When we add to the mix online offenders who are very good at grooming or manipulating children whilst normalising inappropriate interactions, the number of victims can only increase.

Pretty much every online offender on the planet is aware children are now in environments they never were before. As a result, there has been a significant rise globally in online offenders (big and small) targeting children. Crimes which once had a victim base that was exclusively adult, are now catching kids out in huge numbers.

Online gaming in particular has grown exponentially over the past 10 years. Though online games have been around for over 20 years, what has changed significantly is the number of juveniles, especially pre-teens who are being drawn to gaming networks. The vast majority of online games have public chat environments, with many games offering zero chat control or filtering options. NBA2K Mobile (basketball game for mobile devices) as an example, has a chat feature which allows users to message each other directly. This cannot be deactivated or even filtered. This in a game which is rated 4+ on the Apple Store!

To see exactly how many children are interacting with strangers in these environments, any investigative reporter or researcher can simply download the top 10 online games in Australia and create an account with a juvenile date of birth. They will see first hand the amount of information being shared by kids and how easy it can be to identify their age and location. When discussing this with parents and reflecting on how easy it is for online offenders to do the same, you can see why it is so difficult for me to find the balance between trying to educate, without scaring them. This is my hardest battle in any presentation I conduct!

In addition to gaming, social networking has opened up juveniles to a massive world of engagement and interaction. These amazing environments of shared experiences and fun are such a great way to engage with friends and family, but they have also opened the door to some of the most severe harms. To a degree, gaming does have more levels of assistance and moderation, however social networking has failed utterly in putting methods in place to minimise risk to users. This lack of true accountability for ethical design has contributed significantly to children becoming the victims of online crime.

As a result of this lack of true assistance from the networks, parents, educators and even kids themselves have been left to clean up the mess. As such, I offer some tips and hints to help keep our kids away from such horrible experiences.



Have a chat with your kids about these types of risk. I know such conversations can be confronting or embarrassing, but they need to be had. Explaining there are people out there who will aim to take advantage of them can be done at varying levels depending on their age. Let them know they can come to you if something goes wrong. Get to know what they are using! Not just the name, not just the fact it is a game or an app, get into it! Sit down with them and run through how it works. Let them teach you!

Stranger Danger

In most incidents, sextortion will be carried out by a 'Random' who has made contact with the victim. This contact can come out of the blue in an online environment or via a 'friend of a friend' through a social networking app. It is important to be sure the people our children are interacting with are known to them physically. Offenders will often send connection requests to those who have high numbers of online friends/followers, because these users will tend to accept a random more readily. If that offender can do that with 10 others in a victims online peer network, that victim will more often than not accept that friend request because the offenders account has mutual contacts. If you are not sure who they are, investigate!

Monitor Payments

Regularly check online purchases. If a child has a pre-paid card, make sure you check where they are spending and what they are paying for. All of their apps and games will provide purchase history. Some kids will delete this information, so it is important to put rules in place to minimise this happening. Third party sites are a massive risk and will often remove money from a card and not provide what was promised. It is therefore extremely important to research any and all sites external to the registered website of the game, or any site outside of the Playstation or X-Box networks.

A massive amount of kids are ripped off annually through sites which are run by scamming networks. We are only seeing the tip of this massive iceberg. Kids will spend $2 or $5 here or there and not get what they purchased. As such, they will simply write that purchase off and never visit that site again. They will not tell a parent they were ripped off, and that website remains active ripping millions of dollars off kids all over the globe.

Never Pay Them

Scammers will promise deletion or removal of embarrassing images or videos as long as you pay them first. In my extensive experience, if a victim does pay money, things will get worse. Once they know a victim is willing to pay, the threats will continue and the scammer will take more steps to act on the victims vulnerabilities or fears. Sadly, the vast majority of scammers will have a large number of victims on the go at any given time. If a victim does not make payment and cuts off contact as early as possible, contact will usually cease and the offender will simply move on to their next victim. They will not act on sharing content and that is where most attempts end. If payment is made, the scammer will lock down on that victim and this is where threats are usually carried out. At first, content will be sent to only a couple of the victims friends. They will then demand another payment under threat of sharing to more people. Thus, the vicious cycle continues.

It is also important to remember Sextortion does not solely include requests for money, gift cards or crypto currency. Quite often sextortion victims are requested to provide additional sexual images or video's. If a victim has been coerced to share an intimate image, many offenders will extort further images or videos from a victim.

Lock Down and Get Offline

If someone does become a victim of sextortion, it is important to lock down and get offline as early as possible. This can be worrying for many teens because many will not want to delete accounts and have to start again. But most social apps allow an account suspension option. Locking down accounts will make it harder for offenders to identify a victims online family or peer network, this minimises the chance of them receiving contact from the offender. It will also lead the offender to assume a victim has deleted their accounts. This removal of contact ability goes a long way in ensuring an offender will simply move on. Sadly, the vast majority of offenders will have a large number of victims on the go at the same time. They will not waste their time chasing a victim who might be difficult to find, they will simply move on to the next victim . So locking down in the first instance assists greatly in minimising future contact.

Report, Report, Report

Report through the Network - Quite often when it comes to social networking in particular, I often describe the futility in reporting through the networks. The large amount of people using social networking compared to the small number of people moderating, is something which needs to continually be addressed at a global level. However, the lack of response we often get when reporting issues through social networking should not deter us from reporting those accounts which are causing the greatest of harm. It is important to remember not to report just once or twice, we need to do it a number of times. If a victim can confide in family and friends, they can work as a team to report through the network where the offender was working. Multiple reports over a short period of time significantly increases the chances of a Moderator identifying the offender and kicking them off the network.

Report to the Police via The Australian Cyber Security Centre - Provide as much detail as you can in regard to what has happened. You will be provided with a report number and the matter will be forwarded to the policing district closest to your home.

Report to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation - ACCCE will assist by offering support and guidance to the victim and parents.

Report to the eSafety Commission - eSafety offer some great resources and advice regarding online crime. They also have a front door approach to the networks and will assist victims in getting content removed or getting offenders kicked off the apps. They can impose hefty fines for organisations who do not remove harmful content within a reasonable amount of time.

Don't Panic - Don't Judge

If your child has been caught out in a sextortion incident, there is nothing wrong with them! Online offenders are good at what they do, and many of them know exactly how to manipulate a child to take risks they would never have thought of taking in the real world. The internet has opened the world to the modern juvenile, and the ability for them to explore their own feelings and curiosities is at their fingertips. There are a large number of people out there who are more than willing to take advantage of those looking to explore such feelings. As such, victims are more concerned of how they will be judged by family and peers than being the victim of crime.

In Example 2 above, "Alex" is a student at one of my schools. I have been speaking to his cohort since he was 11years of age. 12months before he rang me for help, I spoke to his year group about sextortion and shared with them a case I had worked on recently. When he rang me for help, he apologised to me for "not listening to what you were warning us about!". He was utterly ashamed of himself and was blaming himself completely for what had occurred. He was terrified his video would be shared and everyone at school would think there was something wrong with him. Alex was the victim of crime! He was taken advantage of by someone who was well versed in manipulation. He fell into a trap that any teen could fall into. As easy as it is for me to write "Don't Panic", as parents it is important to slow down and respond appropriately. Offer support and get the help you need in order to minimise the impact.

It is important to remain ever vigilant. Ensure devices are never in bathrooms or bedrooms, and if they are we must take action to ensure very strict rules and restrictions are put in place. Sextortion is a very ewwwwww conversation to have in the car on the way home from school, but try it! Share the examples I have offered in this article, because it is more likely than not (especially in gaming), your child has been approached by some "weirdo" already and you may not be aware of it.