Primary school students as young as 10 are being targeted by online predators through games and apps, a leading cybercrime expert says.
- Online predators are using games and apps to target children as young as 10
- Scammers may seek intimate images or video of children to extort money or more content
- The eSafety Commissioner reported a tripling in sextortion crimes in the first quarter of 2023
Former technology crime investigator and WA police officer Paul Litherland is running workshops with school students across Western Australia’s Great Southern this week.
He said incidences of younger children being targeted for scams and sextortion attempts were growing.
Sextortion involves an offender using an intimate image or video of a victim to blackmail money or more sexual material from them by threatening to send the content to their family and friends.
Predators use games, apps to target kids
With children starting to use games, apps and the internet at a much younger age, Mr Litherland said parents were often unaware of what platforms they were using.
“The biggest thing that hits me quite regularly is how young kids are getting on the internet these days, more importantly how some of our high-end crimes like sextortion and scams are starting to target younger and younger children,” he said.
“The average age I’ve seen are year nine and 10 students, 14, 15 and 16-year-olds — but sextortion does push down into younger ages, year fives and sixes through [the] gaming environment.”
Reports of sextortion to the eSafety Commissioner jumped in the first quarter of 2023, with more than 1,700 from January to March this year compared to 600 over the same period in 2022
Online currency used to blackmail kids
Mr Litherland said a recent case involved a 12-year-old WA boy blackmailed with intimate images using online currency.
“He thought he was interacting with a child but it was a predator promising V-bucks,” he said.
“He was asked to send a funny photo of his bum or something for V-bucks, a currency used in games … the young fella was sending nude or intimate images, this person was collecting them [and] demanding more.”
“When victims do pay they tend to continue to bug them for more and more content.
“Kids might pay money and the threat won’t go away.”
Educating, discussion with children key
Mr Litherland said education campaigns were raising awareness, but it was key for parents to start discussing cyber safety with young children before they become a victim.
“We need to get up to speed in awareness about what are kids are doing and what environments they’re in,” he said.
“Get to know what your kids are using, rather than just saying ‘no’ to games or apps.
“Asks them how it works, play their game…you can also install apps which monitor what children are doing online.”
Mr Litherland said gaming companies and app developers should take more steps to stop these kinds of crimes.
“Gaming, social media environments — they need to take more of an ethical response into how their networks are designed.” he said.
“Our children are being targeted, we all are — we’re being targeted to get onto these networks and these apps.”
Cybercrime can be reported to the police or the eSafety Commissioner at esafety.gov.au.