TEENAGERS across Scotland are to be taught “cyber-hygiene” amid fears that sophisticated criminal gangs are increasingly using sex to extort money online.
A school programme focusing on staying safe online is to be rolled out across the country following a successful pilot at a school in South Ayrshire.
It follows the death of Daniel Perry, 17, from Dunfermline, who took his own life after falling victim to a Filipino “sextortion” gang.
In a new strategy for dealing with serious organised crime outlined by the Scottish Government last week, cybercrime has been highlighted as being one the largest growth areas for criminal gangs.
There are growing concerns about the use of hacking attacks on Scottish businesses, but also the online threat to private individuals.
Detective Superintendent Stevie Wilson, who leads Police Scotland’s new £1.5 million cybercrime hub, said that so-called sextortion cases were now a “significant” worry for the force.
‘This is a significant and threatening crime’
“We’re not talking about an enormous growth in this, but it’s a highly significant and really threatening crime,” he said.
“Generally what will happen is that someone will engage with a person online believing they are a male or female and will enter into a sexualised chat. That chat will then be used to blackmail them or extort money from them.
“It can be very difficult to detect the individuals that are involved in this, so we’re putting a strong emphasis on protecting and informing people.”
Det Supt Wilson said a scheme piloted at Kyle Academy in Ayr was now being extended with a view to rolling it out across the country.
Particular focus is being put on educating young people about the dangers of sharing images online.
“I think they become blasé about it sometimes,” he said. “That’s a really important part of this course, talking about the implications of sharing images. The case of Daniel Perry and others like that are used as case studies to teach the kids.
“Having seen some of the classes being taught, kids go completely silent because a lot of them have probably been in the circumstance of having shared an image, or will know someone who has shared an image they wish they hadn’t. It’s very much about putting the kids into a live situation, saying ‘look this has happened to another kid in Scotland’.
“What we’re trying to do is give them an understanding of cyber-hygiene – staying safe online is a life skill now.”
Cyber-hygiene is the practice of taking steps to protect a person’s online identity.
Authorities in the Philippines are continuing to investigate the case of Daniel Perry, who died in 2013 after he was blackmailed by people he had been communicating with online. Last year an operation by Police Scotland and their Filipino counterparts led to the arrest of three men in Manila.
Daniel believed he had been talking to a girl his own age on Skype when he was recorded by his blackmailers, who then threatened to post the video online.
According to a BBC investigation, the men then sent the teenager a message reading: “I will make you suffer.”
The teenager begged them not to carry out the threat but detectives claim the suspects replied: “Commit suicide now.” Later, they wrote: “Are you dead yet?”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There has been a change in the threats and crime types since 2009, part of which has been a substantial increase in cybercrime. This innovative pilot programme run at Kyle Academy by Police Scotland and Scottish universities raises awareness of the dangers posed by the internet and gave children support and advice about what to do if they were the victim of online crime.
“Children were also able to teach their families about the dangers of cyber-crime and how to prevent it. The pilot has received positive feedback from pupils, staff and parents at Kyle Academy and is now being rolled out across Scotland.”