ONLINE EXPLOITATION AND COVID-19
During the COVID-19 pandemic people are spending more time online and are more isolated from friends and family. Offenders are taking advantage of this to groom and exploit people – of any age, gender and background. They are using social media, online chat sites and online gaming to talk to, befriend and influence others.
This could involve encouraging someone to take part in harmful activities, or hand over money or other items of value. The offender may seek to influence someone’s views and actions, or groom them into a friendship or sexual relationship. They may give the person gifts, money or a sense of value or importance.
What are the risks online?
- You don’t always know who you’re talking to online. Unless you know someone in real life it’s difficult to be sure the person you’re messaging is really who you think they are.
- Social media is ‘always on’ and you can feel bombarded by messages and pressure to keep responding. This can be used to watch, coerce and control what you do.
- Sharing images – if you don’t know who you’re talking to you don’t know who you’re sending an image to – perpetrators may pressure you to share personal information or images that they can use for their own gain or as a form of control and manipulation.
- Information about you online – perpetrators will use any information you’ve shared about yourself publicly to get to know you and pretend to be a friend you can trust.
What are the signs to look out for?
Signs that someone is being groomed and exploited may include some of the following:
- Becoming more secretive, especially around internet use
- Spending increasing amounts of time communicating with, or talking about, friends met online
- Becoming withdrawn and isolated from family and friends
- Changes in appearance, interests, views or behaviour
- Receiving a large number of calls or messages
- Receiving gifts or money online
- Signs of having spent or lost money, including difficulty affording everyday items or evidence of making payments to a person or company
Remember, online exploitation can happen to anyone.
Where can you go for help?
If you are concerned that you, or someone you know, is being groomed or exploited get help now:
If you are concerned about someone’s safety or welfare contact:
- The Devon Children and Families Partnership if you are concerned about someone aged under 18.
- The Devon Safeguarding Adults Partnership if you are concerned about someone aged 18 and over.
You can report concerns and suspicions to the police by calling 101, or anonymously through Crime Stoppers by calling 0800 555 111.
If you feel there is an immediate threat to life, call 999.
You can find more information and support about specific types of online exploitation on the following links:
- Sexual exploitation
- Fraud and cybercrime
- Child exploitation (scroll down to ‘Online exploitation’)
Our partners have produced some useful campaigns to raise awareness of online exploitation. Learn more and find support here:
The NSPCC website has lots of useful information for parents and carers about online safety and tips and advice about adapting to family life during the lockdown. The NSPCC also offer free support and guidance through their helpline on 0808 800 5000 (8am-10pm Mon-Fri / 9am-6pm weekends).