Mid Ulster police face rising tide of social media crime

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More than a thousand alleged crimes involving social media were reported to Tyrone police during the last five years, newly released figures have revealed.

There have been sharp rises in the number of local people coming forward to complain that they had been abused, harassed and threatened on the popular social media sites.

However the figures reveal that just 17 per-cent of the calls to police resulted in a crime being recorded.

The largest number of crimes (94) concerned violence against the person, followed by theft (23), sexual offences (19) and ‘miscellaneous crimes against society’ (14).

The investigations launched by police include claims that a number of people are being targeted by international crime gangs in the same way as Coalisland schoolboy Ronan Hughes, who took his own life in June.

The teenager was the victim of what the police call webcam blackmail.

The PSNI will not discuss the details of the case, but has confirmed that it is investigating other similar allegations.

“We’ve received a number of reports from persons who feel that they have been blackmailed as a result of footage that they have willingly participated in and which could be embarrassing if released,” Det Supt Jonathan Roberts, a member of a specialist team tasked with investigating cyber crime, said.

“It is our assessment that the perpetrators of these crimes may well be located in another jurisdiction, possibly on the other side of the world.”

Police say there could be many more victims who are too embarrassed to seek help and have urged them to come forward.

Facebook users in particular have been urged to use vigilance when accepting friend requests.

In recent weeks local people have continued to report suspicious cases of ‘friend requests’ from such accounts.

According to new statistics, obtained by the Press Association under the Freedom of Information Act, police forces across the UK have seen a continued steady rise in the number of alleged victims lodging formal complaints about social media.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said it was up to internet providers and the social media companies as well as the police to protect people online.

A number of confidential phone-lines are available for people who feel that they need to talk to someone over online abuse. Contact Lifeline on 0808 808 800 and The Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.