Northern Ireland news

Children as young as seven targeted for the same kind of `webcam blackmailing' that drove Ronan Hughes to suicide

Webcam blackmail involves overseas criminals scouring the web for people they can build a rapport with, before deceiving them into performing a sexual act on video

CHILDREN as young as seven are being targeted for the same kind of `webcam blackmailing' that drove Co Tyrone teenager Ronan Hughes to suicide, Europol has revealed.

The law enforcement agency of the European Union was central to tracking down and securing the conviction of Iulian Enache, from Timisoara in western Romania.

It facilitated the international co-operation between the PSNI, National Crime Agency and Romania's Directorate for Investigation of Organised Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT), its Office for Combating Cybercrime and the Brigade for Combating Organised Crime in Timisoara.

Webcam blackmail involves criminals scouring the web for people they can build a rapport with, before deceiving them into performing an indecent act on video.

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The footage is recorded and then used to blackmail victims for money.

Initially it was thought that 17-year-old Ronan, from Clonoe near Coalisland, had fallen prey to blackmailers from Nigeria, but this was later proved to be a false lead, with Enache using a pre-pay phone card and a proxy server to mask his own location in Romania.

Enache also used several pseudonyms to message the schoolboy on a forum for online meetings and discussions, on Facebook and on Skype - each time pretending to be a girl (`Jenny', `Maria' and finally `Emily Magee').

He tricked the teenager into posting compromising pictures and video.

The "complex and protracted" investigation that followed the death of Ronan in June 2015 saw Enache finally charged in October 2016.

He pleaded guilty in a court in Timisoara last week and was sentenced to four years, serving three in prison.

It was online monitoring which eventually yielded the Romanian IP address, its related e-mail addresses, and which platforms it was most likely to visit.

Europol warns that such predatory behaviour towards children has "skyrocketed in the past years, but remains largely underreported".

A report released this summer stated that sexual information or images are increasingly being sought and used to extort sexual material, sexual favours or money.

It said that when targeting a minor, offenders are usually either motivated by a sexual interest in children or financial gain.

Europol's report found that female child victims are "being blackmailed more significantly for sexually explicit material (84 per cent) compared to boys (53 per cent).

However, male minors are "more so targeted for financial gain (32 per cent compared to two per cent for female child victims)".

They identified it as "a relatively new trend in the field of online child sexual abuse".

Timisoara prosecutors initially ordered a 24-hour detention order to hold Iulian Enache for "child pornography in a continuous form and blackmail".

DIICOT prosecutors searched his home and seized laptops, a PC drive, CDs and DVDs.

Enache chose not to make any statements during interrogation and refused to provide passwords for access to the computer systems.

Two Northern Ireland `law enforcement officials' took part in the raid, according to Romanian media.

He had used his computer equipment to send aggressive demands for £3,300 in Bitcoin currency.

He said: "You're gonna do what I'm telling you or else I'll publish all this crap for your friends and not only: porn sites (20 or more), torrents and DC ++ !!! Okay, did I get your attention? So you should know what's good for you! What I want? Money! I have no interest in sending you crap to your friends. I just want the money!"

Bitcoin is favoured by cyber-criminals because it is more difficult to trace than other online transactions.

Any child affected by these issues can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or Lifeline on 0808 808 8000

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