Record number of extortion offenses in Sussex

Figures show a RECORD number of extortion offenses were reported to Sussex police last year.

Charity Victim Support is urging the government and police to take the crime – which includes a rising number of “sextortion” cases – seriously.

Home Office figures show Sussex Police recorded 565 extortion offenses in the year to March – up from 408 in 2020-2021 and the most since comparable records began in 2012-2013.

Across England and Wales, 22,000 such offenses were recorded in 2021-2022, more than double the number recorded before the coronavirus pandemic in 2019-2020 and also a record.

The crime, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, is one of the fastest growing in the last decade.

Victim Support said the surge could reflect more crimes or victims feeling more empowered to come forward, but warned many are still choosing not to do so due to embarrassment.

Diana Fawcett, chief executive of the charity, said: “This steep rise in reports of extortion is of serious concern – with just 1 per cent of cases resulting in a charge, we risk victims losing confidence in the criminal justice system.

“It is important that victims of extortion receive practical and emotional support to help them recover and seek justice.

“The police and the government must take this crime seriously and investigate the cause of this increase.”

Although the numbers don’t break down the type of extortion carried out, the National Crime Agency considers “sextortion,” or webcam extortion, in which victims are tricked into performing sexual acts on video, as a growing threat.

And the Revenge Porn Helpline, which supports those who have been victims of intimate image abuse, said it was the most reported problem in 2021.

Zara Ward, a senior practitioner at the service, said: “In many of our cases we only see the tip of the iceberg and so many of these cases go unreported because the scammers have tremendous influence over their victims and this can result in many victims, who are silent.”

She said the pandemic has driven much of people’s daily communications online, including relationships, and many scams now start on dating apps or social media.

The National Council of Police Chiefs said an increase in extortion crimes was largely due to improvements in recording.

It encourages all victims to report this to the police – where they can continue to receive assistance – and not to give in to demands.

Separate figures show that of the 20,360 racketeering investigations completed nationwide between 2021 and 2022, only 1 percent resulted in an indictment or subpoena and 59 percent with no identified suspect.

Of these, 568 were completed in Sussex, with 82 per cent resulting in no suspect being identified, 17 per cent being abandoned due to evidentiary difficulties and less than one per cent receiving an indictment or subpoena.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We support the police by funding crime prevention measures, including equipping the police with better technology to catch more criminals.

“We are working with partners across the criminal justice system to increase the number of indicted and prosecuted cases.”

A Sussex Police spokesman told The Argus: “Sussex Police take reports of extortion extremely seriously and will always fully investigate incidents where investigative lines are available.

“Accurate reporting is an essential part of tackling these crimes and the latest data shows that there has been an increase in reports of extortion in Sussex over the last 12 months, reflecting the national picture.

“The biggest increase came from reports of sextortion, which accounts for the majority of extortion offenses recorded in Sussex.

“While 20 armed forces in the UK have seen a larger increase in reports than Sussex Police, we as the armed forces welcome the findings from support agencies that victim confidence in reporting blackmail offenses is improving.

“We always want to strongly encourage victims to report any incidents as soon as possible so that they can be assisted, an investigation can be started and the perpetrators brought to justice.

“A lot of work is being done in Sussex to improve charge and prosecution rates.

“Perpetrators of these crimes are often coordinated by organized crime groups based abroad.

“While this complicates investigations, we can take steps to identify and prosecute perpetrators, especially if we are notified as soon as possible.

“We also work closely and in partnership with schools and our communities to improve online safety and raise awareness of how these crimes are committed so crimes can be prevented.

“Officials and staff also receive ongoing training on how to identify and effectively investigate these types of crimes.

“Early reporting is key. If you have been the victim of extortion, report it to the police online, on 101 or, in an emergency, on 999 as soon as possible.

“The sooner we are aware of this, the sooner we can act.

“For sextortion information and guidance, go to: Record number of extortion offenses in Sussex

Fry Electronics Team

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