Law enforcement agencies including the RCMP warn that financial sextortion is increasing in Canada, and that everybody is at risk amid what they're calling a “public safety crisis.”

Given the prevalence of these crimes, and that young people are being targeted, the RCMP and other agencies encourage parents and teenagers to pre-emptively learn about financial sextortion to protect themselves from this crime.

A Canadian tip line for reporting these cyber crimes saw a 56 per cent increase in sextortions between March and August of last year. data suggests 87 per cent of incidents reported last year involved boys.

The tip line is now receiving an average of 200 reports per month, but that number rose to 600 a month last summer.

“Sextortion is a public safety emergency threatening Canada's children,” Lianna McDonald, executive director at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said in the RCMP statement. “These are highly organized offenders using aggressive tactics to manipulate youth into complying with their demands. Talking to your teens about this issue and reminding them they can always come to you is paramount.”

What is financial sextortion?

“Financial sextortion is a type of online blackmail that is, sadly, on the rise. It involves someone asking you to send them sexual images or videos of yourself and then threatening to share them with others unless you pay them,” the RCMP said in a statement.

Victims are being targeted not only through computers but through phones and gaming consoles, while in classrooms or other public places as well as in their own homes.

When it comes to what to do if you are being targeted, police say to immediately sign out and deactivate your social media account so the offenders won’t be able to communicate with you.

But they say to make sure not to delete your account and the images that have been shared, as this can help with their investigation. You can also save a copy of images you sent,. along with the offender’s profile.

If the offenders tell you to send money, do not comply, police say. It could lead to frequent future demands.

To prevent being targeted, police say to make sure that the person you are communicating with is a trusted individual before communicating online. If you are not sure, reach out to a trusted adult or call police.

Officers say it's very important to understand that you are not guilty of anything. They warn offenders might make you feel like your life is over, but the fact is that you are not alone.

Reporting for this story was paid for through The Afghan Journalists in Residence Project funded by Meta.