Almost 170 people in Northern Ireland were faced with blackmail over intimate images in the last year, according to police figures.
Sextortion involves a perpetrator threatening to reveal such images of the victim online unless they give in to their demands.
According to the PSNI, victims range from teenagers to pensioners, and can be asked for thousands of pounds to ensure the images are not released.
The PSNI said it received 167 reports around sextortion last year as it launched a new online awareness campaign today.
The reports were received between September 1, 2018, and September 9, 2019.
PSNI Detective Superintendent Rowan Moore urged the public to be careful around who they befriend online.
“Criminals might befriend victims online by using a fake identity and then persuade them to perform sexual acts in front of their webcam,” he said.
Criminals who then threaten to share the images with the victims’ friends and family. This can make the victims feel embarrassed and ashamed, and prevent them from coming forward to report the incident.
Supt Moore continued: “In the past year we have received 167 reports of cyber-related blackmails across Northern Ireland. These reports relate to the attempted blackmail of people of a variety of ages, from teenagers to people in their 60s, as a result of footage that they have willingly participated in and which could be embarrassing if released.
“The culprits can ask for anything from about £200 to thousands of pounds/euros to ensure the footage isn’t released on social media platforms and although we believe most of the victims who report it to us don’t pay any money, there are some that do.”
Supt Moore said they need all victims of sextortion to come forward and report it to police.
“Police are committed to fully investigating this type of crime when it is reported to us; however, we want to do all we can to raise awareness so this doesn’t happen at all,” he said.
“We believe these types of crimes are generally under-reported and that in some cases, people prefer to pay money rather than contact police.
“We would urge anyone who has been the victim of cyber-related blackmail to come forward and report it to police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.
“Even though it may be embarrassing, anybody who is the victim of such a crime should be reassured that we are able to deal with it.”
Advice can be found on the Get Safe Online website at www.getsafeonline.org or www.psni.police.uk/advice_information/sextortion/