Seven out of 10 'sextortion' victims in Australia are men, often foreign students eager for companionship then coaxed into sharing intimate images and blackmailed
By Beh Lih Yi
KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A rising number of young men in Australia are falling victim to online "sextortion", the head of the country's internet safety agency has warned, bucking a global trend of primarily targeting vulnerable women and girls.
Seven out of 10 victims of sextortion - a form of extortion that involves sexual acts or images as its currency - in Australia were men, according to the office of Australia's eSafety commissioner, a government agency.
Many of them were foreign male students who were eager for companionship after they arrived to study at universities, with official figures showing more than half of the victims were aged between 18 and 24.
"It's absolutely a thing we're seeing. It's very concerning," said eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, who leads the office, which bills itself as the world's first government agency tasked with keeping citizens safe when online.
Many victims visited social media or dating sites in an attempt to make new friends, but were then coaxed into sharing intimate images of themselves and blackmailed by criminal gangs later.
Victims are often lured into a "sexy Skype or Facetime" call and asked to pose sexually, said Inman Grant.
"When that happens, they are extorted for money. Once they have paid, the scammers will continue going back to them asking for more," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview this week.
The warning came as new government figures showed Generation Z Australians - those aged below 25 - have emerged as the fastest-growing group of victims of scams.
Gen Z lost over A$5 million ($3.2 million) last year to scams, according to a report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission this week.
The eSafety Commission said organised crime based in countries like the Philippines, is behind many of Australia's sextortion cases.
Sextortion usually targets women and girls who are then failed by a lack of laws globally to combat such abuses, anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International said in a report this month.
Australia is a world leader in fighting sextortion and outlawed "revenge porn" - the non-consensual sharing of intimate images - in 2018.
Inman Grant's office is looking into technological solutions that can help victims scour the web and easily get their images removed.
"This is so that the victims do not have to go out and look for their own images, as it is traumatising," said Inman Grant, who previously worked at tech giants Microsoft and Twitter.
($1 = 1.5347 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Michael Taylor and Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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