In 2022, 21 of the 26 extortion files that the Airdrie RCMP investigated had a sexual component (sextortion), which denotes an alarming trend that has not only been noticed in Airdrie, but in many parts of Southern Alberta.

Sextortion is a form of blackmail in which someone online threatens an individual to make public a sexually explicit image or video of that individual if they are not paid or provide further sexually explicit images.

AStatistics provided by the Airdrie RCMP show a rapid increase in extortion cases that the police dealt with between the years 2018-2022. (Statistics provided by Airdrie RCMP) 

While the statistics provided by the Airdrie RCMP encompass all age ranges, statistics published by ALERT (Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams) Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) unit noted that between March 2022 and December 2022, more than 100 youth from southern Alberta had been victims of sextortion scams. According to Detective Dean Jacobs, a Calgary police officer who works with the Southern Alberta ICE unit, there currently are 131 investigations open, with youth, both girls and boys between the ages of 9 to 17 being targeted, with money being requested from $50 to upwards of $5,000. 

He said that there has been an alarming trend of young boys becoming the target of extortionists. He observed that the three most frequently used social media platforms for sextortion crimes are Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook.

Det. Jacobs said that some of the groups who are targeting youth originate from Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. While girls are often extorted into sending more explicit photos of themselves, boys will often be extorted for money, both in the form of gift cards, as well as trying to gain bank account information. In the case of extortionists targeting boys, suspects will often set up a fake profile made to appear as a girl.

"The conversation is quick. [It starts off with the suspect] sending an image of themselves, maybe in the bathroom, taking a selfie at the mirror or sending a nude picture, to get the boy to then reciprocate," he said. "And soon as that is done, they right away start saying if you don't send me money: $500 or $1,000 gift cards, then I'll start posting this image or this video of you and send it out to all your friends on Facebook or Instagram page or Snapchat."

His advice to youth is that those who use social media should never accept friend requests on social media from anyone who they haven't met in real life.

"Do not send out any images of yourself to anybody and if someone does reach out to you, and you don't know that person; block them," he said. "No kid online is safe from that, because they [extortionists] are inundating you with various profiles."

He also warned parents that should be involved in what their kids do online.

"Have their passwords for their phone, have a look at their phone, watch out for signs that if they're moving away from their friends and going into they're going into their rooms, and not talking to anybody, then there might be something going on," Det. Jacobs said. "You need to have open conversations and those conversations are hard because they can be embarrassing, but that's why we're parents, and that's why we're here: to protect our kids."

Because many sextortion cases have links to international organized crime syndicates, police work with a number of law enforcement agencies across the globe, including the F.B.I., and Homeland Security, as well as law enforcement agencies in Australia, to name a few.

"It takes a little bit of time for us to find them but we'll find them, it just takes a little bit of more police work, and it can't be instantaneous. This is not CSI and we're not able to have everything done in 45 minutes."

Det. Jacobs said that apart from joint police cooperation both across the province and the globe, a project launched in 2017 by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P), named Project Arachnid, has been key in combatting child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the internet. The program crawls the open web in search of images of child sexual abuse content.

"When CSAM or harmful‑abusive content is detected, a removal request is sent to the hosting provider. Project Arachnid processes thousands of images a second and is capable of detecting content at a pace that greatly exceeds traditional methods of identifying and addressing this material,", which is Canada's National tipline for reporting online sexual exploitation of children, stated.  

Over the last five years, Project Arachnid's activities have led to six million images and videos of child sexual exploitation being removed from over 1,000 electronic service providers spanning over 100 countries worldwide.

If you or someone you know is being sextorted:

  • Immediately stop all communication and take screenshots of the conversation and the profile
  • Do not comply with the threat
  • Report the threat to the social media platform
  • Reach out for help to a trusted adult; and
  • Keep the correspondence
  • Go to if you are seeking guidance on what to do next.
  • Report to as concerns involving sextortion is forwarded to the police.
  • Contact your local police or RCMP

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