A centre that helps victims of crime has reported a worrying increase in the number of cases of sexual blackmail involving teenagers.
Sioned Jacobsen, the operations manager at the North Wales Victim Help Centre, says youngsters are being targeted by online extortionists.
She revealed her concerns to North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones who funds the centre.
Mr Jones, a former police inspector, heard demand for the centre’s services has increased every year since it was established in 2015 and last year they made contact with 34,500 victims of all sorts of crimes.
Most people are referred to them by the police and other agencies but victims are also encouraged to call the centre themselves if they need expert support and guidance
The one-stop-shop for victims covers the whole of North Wales and is based at divisional police HQ in St Asaph.
Each victim receives a response specifically tailored to their situation and the centre employs specialists in modern day slavery, mental health and hate crime.
Ms Jacobsen said: “We have seen an increase in sexual blackmail recently where people will be sharing explicit images online and then the perpetrators will then ask for a fee otherwise they’ll share those images.
“We’ve seen quite a lot of these cases come through, especially young people, aged 14, 15, 16.
“Some of the cases are quite horrible. It’s about the blackmailers taking advantage of vulnerable young people.
“The young people concerned are sharing nude images of themselves without thinking of the possible consequences.
“For example, if it’s a teenage girl she may be sharing pictures of herself without a top on and be under the impression she’s sending them to a boy of her own age.
“Then they found out they have been tricked by a blackmailer who demands money, maybe £500 or a £1000, or otherwise they threaten to share the pictures on social media.
“It is traumatic for the victims who are left feeling totally devastated.
“I think the increase in the number of cases coming through is just down to young people being on social media which is massive these days.
“It’s the world we live in but unfortunately, I think young people aren’t aware of the dangers.
One thing I learned recently was any picture you put online and on any social media, no matter how private your accounts are, will be public if you put a hashtag after it.
“That’s an important message to get out. It’s scary and young people aren’t aware of that so they don’t know the consequences.
“It’s vitally important to get message out there that young people need to be very careful.
“The schools need to be raising awareness of the dangers of social media and what the implications could be of sharing images with people.
“With Snapchat for example once you’ve sent it people say it’s gone after 10 seconds but it hasn’t because people can screenshot it and it can be there forever then. It’s just frightening.”
Commissioner Jones said: “Keeping young people safe is a key priority of my Police and Crime Plan.
“The Victim Help Centre is providing an absolutely vital service, giving much needed support to those who have unfortunately been on the receiving end of a whole range of crimes.
“Sexual blackmail is utterly despicable and it is hugely important we get the message out about the dangers of the online world so that young people can use social media safely and responsibly.
“It is important that we educate youngsters about the perils of this dangerous practice and that we provide and their concerned parents with support to deal with the situation.
“Technological advances have brought great benefits to society but at the same time they have increased risk and the scope for wrongdoing, so we must be vigilant.”