Kids are being “sextorted” by online predators who are editing images of them onto sexual videos or photos and threatening to spread them on the internet, warns the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

Stephen Sauer, director of Cybertip.ca, which is run out of the Canadian Centre, called it a “new progression” in online youth extortion and says the organization wants to “get out ahead of a trend” since they’ve received less than 10 reports.

“Now we’re looking at where they’re creating imagery of these kids with very minimal, pretty benign imagery to begin with, and that’s being created into sexually exploitative or explicit material,” he said during an interview on Wednesday.

In a news release, the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre, a national charity “dedicated to the personal safety of all children,” says parents should be aware that it’s received reports of children being sextorted on various platforms. Those platforms include Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Google Hangouts, Skype, Line App and more anonymized spaces like Omegle, which is video chat with strangers.

The Canadian Centre said that in one case a person answered an anonymous video call from a scammer who recorded it and then edited the victim’s face into a video to make it look like they were engaging in a sexual act.

The offender demanded payment or else they would share it on social media.

Sometimes the scammer may follow friends and family of the victim, in order to show that they are serious about following through with their threats, said the Canadian Centre.

Deepfake technology has advanced in recent years to the point where fake videos of people, made with the help of machine learning or artificial intelligence, look like the real thing. Many of them are pornographic in nature.

Sauer said sextortion can be carried out by “organized groups” of people who are interested in scamming adults and children out of money, or by a sexual predator interested in getting images from children.

“We’re concerned about this and we want to raise awareness about it,” he said.

“The technology is increasingly becoming better and better,” he added, “we could see this occurring to more and more youth if that technology became more and more available.”

During the pandemic, as kids have been stuck at home with more time on their hands to use social media, scammers have taken notice, said Sauer.

“(Kids are) looking for social outlets,” he said. “Way back in March and April of last year, we were seeing posts by the offending community on places like the dark-web where they were talking about their ability to access more youth.”

Sauer specifically called out internet video chat services like Omegle and Chatroulette, where anyone can connect with a click and a webcam, but which also “provide an avenue for this,” he said.

“It’s pretty easy to connect with youth through those services and offend against them,” he said.

“You’re anonymous, you don’t know who they are and they don’t know who you are.”

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As governments increasingly look at regulating the online world, Sauer said they should consider this space and how youth access social media, but he also said platforms must protect children.

“You shouldn’t have youth intersecting with the adults in an unregulated space,” he said.

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