An alarming number of Australian children are being targeted by international scammers, who exploit them to obtain sexual images with the intention of blackmail, and the threat is on the rise.

According to recent reports malicious internet users have now advanced their methods, by employing artificial intelligence (AI) tools, to manipulate innocent photos by inserting victims’ faces onto explicit images.

Victims are then being pressured to pay money – even if they have never shared explicit content – as online criminals threaten to reveal the inappropriate material to their friends and family.

If you don’t know them personally, don’t connect with them

Mary Kayalicos, a mother of two girls, (aged 18 and 19), stresses that a significant factor contributing to the prevalence of this issue, is the fact that “parents are not educated enough about the problem.”

“Open communication is key for me as a mother, so I can talk to my girls about the potential dangers associated with unknown profiles.

“If you don’t know them personally, don’t connect with them!” Mary Kayalicos told Neos Kosmos.

The 48-year-old mother believes that her generation is progressively adapting to technological advancements, particularly AI tools, and is becoming more aware of the risks linked to “catfishing” – the act of creating a fake online identity to trick someone, usually for romance or money.

However, she mentions that “sometimes kids fall into the trap of connecting with people they don’t know,” simply viewing it as “a way to communicate with someone.”

This seems to have happened, with a friend’s son, Kayalicos revealed, who claims to have fallen victim to catfishing, after engaging with someone online who posed as an attractive woman and sent sexually explicit messages.

The Greek- Australian mother of young adults also expressed concern that “the inability of today’s generation to put aside their mobile phones for a second and approach girls to make a real connection,” is “another problem faced by teenagers and young adults.”

“We must remind them that it is important to develop their social skills as young adults, walk up to a person, say hello, and start a conversation.

This generation needs to go back to basics,” Kayalicos said.

Mary Kayalicos, a Greek Australian mother of two young adults says that “open communication is key” to inform her girls about “the potential dangers associated with unknown profiles.” Photo: Supplied

Open communication is key

Dr Αnastasia Hronis, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Australian Institute for Human Wellbeing, shares that she has also encountered cases of sextortion in her clinical practice.

“Unfortunately, we have had families who have come to us, reporting the psychological impacts of being victims of sextortion. This is particularly concerning when children and teenagers have been targeted,” said Dr Hronis to Neos Kosmos.

Given how easy it is for “children these days to find their way onto the dark web and become victims of these types of crimes,” Hronis notes that parents are increasingly becoming more concerned about their children’s safety online, often seeking guidance on how to protect them from the dangers lurking in the digital space.

“Their concerns range from being the victim of paedophiles and predators posing as other children and asking to meet up in person, to making requests for sexual content,” the Greek Australian clinical psychologist said.

She also addressed parent’s “concerns about online gaming,” highlighting that “children can connect and play with people from around the world, who may pose as children but are in fact predators.”

There are a number of factors which can drive offenders beahviour, according to Dr Hronis.

“Sometimes it may be the case of severe mental illness driving the offenders. At other times when children and adolescents are the target of these crimes, we may see paedophilia as the motivating force. Finances can also be a driving factor, as well as revenge,” she explained.

How can parents protect their children from online risks?

According to Dr. Hronis “It is important that parents have open, ongoing conversations with their children about these issues.”

She also mentioned that “in 2023, the Australian government released a media campaign titled “One Talk At A Time,” which “highlights the importance of having regular, proactive and preventative conversations with children about these issues, to prevent child sexual abuse.”

Dr. Αnastasia Hronis, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Australian Institute for Human Wellbeing. Photo: Supplied

The method of sextortion

As reported recently by the Herald Sun, The Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (JACET) – involving both Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police – is warning that during the summer holidays, more children might be at risk of sextortion – a form of sexual exploitation that involves the use of non-physical coercion to extort sexual favours.

Acting senior sergeant Warren Hutchison stressed that teenage boys, who are highly driven by their sexual interest, become vulnerable targets for offshore offenders who use the sextortion method.

According to senior intelligence analyst Lauren-Ann Szostak, children often receive friendship requests on social media platforms from users pretending to be of the opposite gender and similar age to the victims.

Once they deceive the victims to obtain revealing photos, they blackmail them, by threatening to publish the explicit content, unless the victim pays with money or gift cards.

However, the police said that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Ms Szostak emphasised that “it is really important for victims to know that they’re not alone,” and that “hopefully that will encourage people to report it.”

Data and recommendations

According to a study led by a research team from UNSW that is considered the world’s largest child sexual abuse perpetration prevalence study to have ever been conducted, it was found that:

– Almost one in ten men admits to committing a child a sexual offense against children.

– One in six men reports feeling sexual attraction towards children

– Almost one in twenty men want help for their sexual feelings towards children.

What to watch out for

– Friendship requests from unknown individuals

– Sudden introduction of questions or discussion of sexual content

– Receiving instantly sexually explicit images from a fake profile requesting the same in return

– Getting a personal message on one app, and then being asked to continue the conversation on a different app

– Indications that English is a second language

– Fake profiles claiming that their camera or microphone is not working for video calls or chats

– Promises from individuals managing fake profiles that the content will be deleted.

What is recommended

– End the conversation

– Take a screenshot of messages or suspicious profiles

– Block the fake account and report it to the social media platform

– Report to Victoria Police or the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE)

– Do not send more images, do not deposit the requested money, and do not comply with their requests.

*If you, someone you know, or a minor has fallen victim to sexual extortion or sexual assault, consider the following support services.

Australian government’s eSafety service

Lifeline: 13 11 14 or

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 or

Headspace: 1800 650 890 or