What is cyber crime?
Today's online world is incredibly exciting, with advancements in digital technology opening up all sorts of opportunities for individuals and businesses in South Yorkshire and nationwide.
Unfortunately, the growth and evolution of the internet has also unlocked potential for criminal abuse. Cyber crime is a rapidly expanding area, where criminals seek to exploit human or security vulnerabilities to steal passwords, data or money.
As many cyber scams are committed by organised crime groups (OCGs) based abroad, it can be extremely challenging, if not impossible, to trace those responsible and recover any losses. This is why it is incredibly important for everybody to know how to spot the signs of cyber crime, to stay safe and prevent it from happening in the first place.
Please take note of the crime prevention advice below to reduce your chances of becoming the next victim. You can also download a free copy of the Little Book of Cyber Scams here - a handy booklet which raises awareness of some of the ever-evolving ways that cyber criminals will try to target victims.
Protect your devices
- Install reputable anti-virus software and turn on the firewall
- Use the latest versions of software, apps and operating system on your devices
- Make sure you keep a copy of all your important information by regularly backing it up
- Use three random words for a strong password - e.g carpetcatkitchen - and use a different password for every account you have
- Use a password manager to store all of your passwords securely
- Turn on two-factor authentication on your online accounts - this is a free security feature that gives you an extra layer of protection online
- Beware of scam emails. Signs that something isn't right include that is seems too good to be true, it's pressuring you into a quick response, it's requesting personal information, or there are spelling mistakes. Do not click on any links or attachments or reply. Forward suspicious emails to email@example.com and forward text message scams to 7726
- Set your account to 'private' and approve what you get tagged in
- Don’t add or accept ‘friend’ requests from people you don’t know. Not everyone is necessarily who they say they are
- Remember what goes online, stays online. Don’t say or publish anything you may later regret
- Be very cautious about posting identifying information about yourself or your family, for example your mother’s maiden name, as it could be used to identify your security passwords
- Question any requests for money or personal details and contact the person via a different method just to double check it is genuine
- Make sure any recovery contact details are up to date
- Click here for guidance on recovering an hacked account
Online finance and shopping
- Always use common sense - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
- Look for "https://" and the padlock image in the web address. This means the connection and your information is secured, but it's not a guarantee the shop itself is legitimate
- Do your own research. Read online reviews of the company and its products to check for customer satisfaction and if it is legitimate
- Use secure payment options such as PayPal or credit card
- Be aware that sponsored links at the top or side of search pages pay to be there. These are not always reliable and can be used by criminals
- Remember banks and financial institutions do not send emails asking you to verify your bank details by clicking on a link. Do not trust such emails, no matter how authentic they appear. Contact your bank using a trusted method that you have used before e.g. the number on the back of your bank card
- Only fill in the mandatory details of forms when making a purchase. Only create an account if necessary or to save you effort if you’re going to use that site a lot in the future. You can usually checkout as a guest
Cyber Crime against women and girls
Criminals use online spaces and technology to commit cyber crime to inflict harms distress and abuse against women and girls. Cyber violence against women and girls is a continuation of offline VAWG offences and the two often go hand in hand. It can include hacking (unauthorised access) of online accounts, impersonation, stalking, harassment and revenge porn or ‘deep fake’ images.
Hacking is a one of the most common crimes that law enforcement has seen in this space. This can be hacking into accounts such as social media, emails, banking apps.
Perpetrators of cyber VAWG offences may have a number of motivations for committing the crimes that they do, whether that is to financially abuse, embarrass, steal identities, control or track people. The impact of these crimes can be devastating, from financial loss to harming the emotional, physical and psychological wellbeing of victims.
Keep your online accounts safe
Steps you can take to improve the security of your online accounts and devices and protect your identity:
- Avoid using personal information in passwords such as a pet name, date of birth, mother's maiden name and even down to favourite bands or football teams. This is information which is often easily guessed or found out online.
- For strong passwords, use the NCSC recommended three random words such as 'PuddingSkyTorch' which offers a higher level of security.
- Use different passwords for each online account - overusing the same password makes it easier for the criminal.
- Set-up Two Factor Authentication (2FA), also known as 2-Step Verification (2SV) where possible.
- Use privacy settings on social media accounts to control who can see your information - set these to private or friends only.
Devices and Tracking
As technology become more ingrained within our daily lives through devices including door bell cameras, smart speakers, Wi-Fi door locks and WiFi heating controls, criminals can exploit these devices to commit VAWG offences, including stalking and harassment.
These devices are all linked to online accounts that allow them to be controlled and managed. To help protect your device from being exploited by criminals, always use a different password to any other online password that you use and set up 2FA for an extra layer of security.
If you think your device or linked account has been compromised, complete a factory reset of the device to remove any existing account and set up a new account with 2FA for extra security.
Bluetooth trackers such as 'Apple AirTags' or equivalent can be used by criminals to stalk people, this could be through dropping them into bags or concealing the devices in other items that a a person will carry with them.
If an unknown tracking device is found on a bag or concealed on clothing, follow these steps:
- Take a photo of where this was found if it is safe to do so
- Report it to the police
- Avoid taking the tracker home or another significant location such as a workplace, friends or family members address.
Location settings or services on mobile devices may be tracking our movements without us realising and could be used to commit crime if it gets into the hands of criminals - manage this service in your device settings and either turn all location tracking off or limit tracking to 'while using' for specific apps.
You can limit location tagging by friends and family in social media posts in permission settings. See the NCSC's advice for using social media accounts safely.
Not everyone online is genuine, or who they appear to be or say they are. Criminals use online dating platforms as a means to obtain information from people or to inflict harm. Here are a few safety tips:
- When setting up your profile make them as secure as possible - make sure you use a different password to the rest of your online accounts, especially your email account.
- Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) where possible.
- Review the information that you are sharing on your profile - limiting personal identifiable information.
- Avoid linking your dating profiles to other accounts such as social media accounts which could be used to find out further information about you
- Keep contact to the with the users on the dating platforms - avoiding moving onto other platforms such as WhatsApp as this is a known tactic by romance scammers.
- When sharing images pay extra attention to what is included in them for example is there anything in the background that could give locations away?
- Report any incidents to the platforms and block users on the platform where needed.
The Digital Breakup Tool from national domestic abuse charity, Refuge, provides useful tips and steps to take to protect you and your online accounts.
Sextortion - Financially Motivated Sexual Extortion
Throughout 2022 and 2023, in the UK and internationally, there has been an increase in reporting of ‘Financially Motivated Sexual Extortion’– often referred to as ‘sextortion’.
Although victims of any age are potential targets, children aged 15-17 years and adults aged 18-30 are particularly at risk. If you are under 18, or seeking advice on behalf of someone who is, please refer to the CEOP website for relevant advice:
- Children: www.thinkuknow.co.uk/11_18/lets-talk-about/sexual-abuse/online-blackmail
- Parents: www.thinkuknow.co.uk/parents/articles/online-blackmail
- Professionals: www.thinkuknow.co.uk/professionals/resources/online-blackmail
What is Sextortion?
Sextortion can refer to a variety of offences committed online. It is most often used to describe online blackmail, where criminals threaten to release sexual/indecent images of you, unless you pay money or do something else. This can look like:
- Financial blackmail using sexual/indecent images that have been sent to somebody you’ve had contact with online.
- Financial blackmail using images that have been stolen from you, taken through hacking, or have been faked using AI generators or other image altering technology.
- Blackmail using sexual/indecent images that have been sent to somebody, but with a demand for something other than money such as give them use of your bank account.
While victims of sextortion may feel distressed or blame themselves, they have been tricked or deceived in some way - it is not their fault. These threats are often committed by organised criminals motivated only by money. It does not matter if an image was initially shared with your consent or through threats or manipulation - the misuse of your image is an offence and is never OK.
Offenders will often pose as other people, and send a large number of friend requests quickly. If a new connection engages in sexual chat, or asks for sexual/indecent images, this might be an attempt at sextortion. If you are uncomfortable, do not share any images. Sextortion attempts can escalate very quickly, or take place over a longer period of time.
Typical signs of sextortion include:
- Moving too fast - they try to develop a relationship with you very quickly. They might be flirty, tell you they like you very soon, or ask for sexual/indecent images. Some may even send a sexual/indecent image to you first.
- Pressure to do things you’re not comfortable with - they may repeatedly ask you to do sexual things you don’t feel comfortable with. It’s never ok for someone to ask you to do things you don’t want to.
- Hacked account or access to your contacts - some blackmailers might tell you they’ve got images or information about you from your device and threaten to share this unless money is given to them.
If you are speaking to new people online:
- Review your privacy settings – if scammers can’t see who your friends and family are, they’re less likely to be able to make threats to share images or information.
- If you’re not comfortable with any new relationships or contact, end it quickly.
- If you have doubts or need support, or are worried you might be being targeted - whether or not anyone is actively threatening you - contact the police or any of the other support agency listed below.
What to do if you’re a victim of sextortion
If this has happened to you, it is not your fault and there is help and support available.
- Stop all communication with the offender immediately.
- You may be tempted to pay, but there is no guarantee that this will stop the threats. The offender’s motive is to get money, once you have shown you can pay they will likely ask for more and the blackmail may continue.
- Preserve evidence, if possible. Take screenshots of the offender’s profile information. Save messages and images, and make a note of usernames, email addresses, phone numbers or bank account numbers.
- If your images have been shared online, collect URLs and links if you can.
These are the quickest ways to report an offence. Reporting helps the police to best support you and hold criminals responsible. If you are in severe distress and thinking about harming yourself, call 999 immediately.
We understand you may find it difficult to report this type of crime to police, so it may help you to talk to someone first.
The NHS also has help and support information for anyone with suicidal thoughts here. You do not have to struggle with difficult feelings alone. Let family or friends know how you are feeling. They may be able to offer support and help keep you safe.
We understand the devastating impact that this type of crime can have. The following organisations are available for further advice and support:
For adults over 18
- Revenge porn helpline – www.revengepornhelpline.org.uk
- Stop NCII (Non-Consensual Intimate Image Abuse) - www.stopncii.org
- Samaritans – www.samaritans.org.uk
For children under 18
- Report Remove - www.childline.org.uk/remove
- Childline – www.childline.org.uk
- Young Minds – www.youngminds.org.uk
If you’ve paid the person, consider getting in touch with your bank. They may not be able to recover payments you have authorised, but will be able to help police better understand the current threat.
If you’ve been the victim of Phishing or a hacking incident, or you need advice on protecting your data online please visit: www.ncsc.gov.uk/collection/phishing-scams
If you aren’t being threatened or extorted, but think a partner you met online might be trying to get money from you, this could be romance fraud. Please visit: www.actionfraud.police.uk/a-z-of-fraud/dating-fraud
Many teenagers and young people have very impressive skills when it comes to all things cyber – so it’s really important that we encourage and support them to use these talents in a positive way.
Unfortunately, increasing numbers of youngsters across the country are getting involved in cyber crime. Many are doing so for fun, for example hacking into a friend’s computer, or kicking somebody offline while playing online games. They may not realise that what they are doing is illegal – and the penalties can be severe.
The Cyber Choices network was created to help people make informed choices and to use their cyber skills in a legal way. This is a national initiative, co-ordinated by the National Crime Agency and delivered locally by partners including South Yorkshire Police.
The aims of the Cyber Choices programme are to:
- Educate people about the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and the possible consequences of breaking the law
- Encourage individuals to make informed choices about their use of technology
- Deter and/or divert individuals from cyber crime
- Promote legal and ethical cyber opportunities
There is a massive opportunity for young people to work towards becoming cyber security professionals, earning a great reputation and a big pay packet.
If you have a concern about anybody you feel might be involved in cyber crime and you need some help and advice, or if you would like a presentation raising awareness of Cyber Choices for students and staff, then please email Cyber_and_Digital_Team@southyorks.pnn.police.uk.
Useful Cyber Choices links
NCA Cyber Choices - The Cyber Choices website
CMA chart - Overview of the Computer Misuse Act 1990
Education pack - Cyber Prevent education pack for teachers
Parent pack - Cyber Prevent guide for parents
YHROCU referral - Details on how to make a referral for advice and support about a young person who may be involved in cyber crime.
Report cyber crime
Cybercrime is one of the most underreported forms of crime. Cybercrime is a serious offence, and every incident should be reported to ensure victims get the support they need.
Anyone can fall victim to fraud or cyber crime. If you think you’ve been a victim, please report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can contact them on textphone 0300 123 2050.
Action Fraud is the UK's national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, which takes crime reports from victims and provides a crime reference number. Action Fraud provides a single place for victims of fraud and cyber crime to report to, or get advice on protecting themselves.
Incidents can also be reported to the police via 101 or by calling 999 in an emergency.