RCMP in Manitoba and across the country are familiar with extortion scams where victims are forced to pay a ransom under the threat of violence.
RCMP officer Corporal Shea Argue says he knows of one instance in this region where the victim was targeted by a stranger using a text message who then switched to WhatsApp.
"The victim was advised that there were some threats against their life and well-being, but they wouldn't be harmed if they agreed to pay a certain sum of money. Some graphic photos and video that were extremely disturbing in nature were then shared with the victim as a means to elicit their cooperation."
Argue says in this particular incident, the person came to the police right away.
"The investigation determined that there was no credible threat to the victim's well-being or safety. It was good that we were notified so early because there was no loss of funds, and the communication was able to cease and we were able to forward that investigation to some of our contacts to see what could be done."
Extortion scammers use fear tactics to take advantage of people caught in a moment of weakness or anxiety.
"If movies and television have done anything, it sometimes increases anxiety in people for things like this because everybody's heard of a story or seen a story online where something like this played out and they wonder, is this actually credible? What happens if I go to the police? Does that just make people angrier?"
Argue points out that there is some legitimate anxiety associated with this issue.
"There's a variety of reasons that people have that hesitation about wanting to come to the police. But then you have to be able to share this with us because it allows us to look into the matter and do the best that we can to try to prevent it as well."
An RCMP media release warns the public to never send funds or give out personal information and to report any fraudulent activities to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or to their local Police service.
It also points out that messaging apps like WhatsApp may provide a users profile name to unknown contacts. Communication through these apps should be avoided when dealing with strangers.