Lonely men isolated by lockdown are being preyed on by bored teenagers posing as sexy women online in a new type of crime known as "eWhoring".
Potential victims are lured in with fake profiles on social media, and then sold pornographic material – mostly photographs and videos – copied from third-party sites.
Dr Ben Collier, of Edinburgh University, told the Daily Record : “The pandemic has led to major changes in the way we live our lives and cyber criminals are no different.
“Lockdown has provided a fertile environment for those engaging in online fraud, such as romance scams and ‘eWhoring’, where individuals use images and videos from social media, purchased from performers, or captured using malware, in order to defraud victims in faked sexual interactions."
He continued: “This is due to an increased preponderance and susceptibility of potential targets who are lonely and spend more time online.
“We find from collections of primary data from forums, chat channels and marketplaces used by cybercrime communities, indications that the social changes and Government policies which have emerged as a result of Covid-19 appear to have stimulated much of the low-level cybercrime economy.
“From the discussions we have observed, it appears possible this is as a result of many users – including adolescents and young adults – currently being confined to home with no school or work for much of the day."
He says criminals stuck at home with more time on their hands will be tempted to get involved in online fraud: "Furthermore, anxiety over job losses and business closures may for some people be prompting them to step up existing cybercriminal activity as a means of income generation.”
One survey found such “romance scams” had increased threefold between 2015 and 2019, while cybersecurity firm Trend Micro found 26,622 posts on eWhoring between August 2018 and June 2019, and 46,651 the following year.
Dr Collier added: “The crisis has revealed a potential role for local or territorial police forces such as Police Scotland to take leadership in preventative responses to future rises in “volume” cybercrime, drawing on their unique strengths and capacities to deliver crime prevention at the local level.”
"Barmaid called Patricia stole my £21,000 after seducing me with sexy selfies"
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “Police Scotland is establishing a National Centre of Excellence and boosting the number of specially trained officers and staff to tackle the rise in cybercrime, as part of its Cyber Strategy 2020.
“We remain vigilant, working with our partners to detect and warn of possible fraudulent schemes, including that associated with Covid-19.”
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