Police are warning users of online escort services to be on their guard following increasing reports that some customers are being blackmailed for large sums of money.

Detective Chief Inspector Brennan said: “The reports we have received so far are from men who have visited these websites and shared some personal details. They are then threatened that if they do not pay money, details of their contact will be disclosed to their friends and family.

"Paying for sexual services which involve you being physically present with another person is a crime in Northern Ireland. It is illegal to pay or promise to pay someone for sex, either directly or through another person. 

"This does not mean that it is acceptable for those who visit escort websites to be targeted by criminals and we want to encourage anyone who has fallen victim to this type of extortion to contact police. 

"We believe that due to the embarrassing nature of the blackmail, victims are not coming forward. We want to reassure you that all reports will be treated sensitively, and in complete confidence. 

"The people behind this type of crime are often part of sophisticated and organised crime groups, mostly based overseas. They extort the vulnerable by causing them distress and deserve to be held to account for their crimes."

Detective Chief Inspector Brennan continued: “While this type of blackmail can affect anyone, the majority of victims are men.

“They are left feeling distraught, but the important message is that victims shouldn’t let embarrassment stop them from reporting what’s happened.”

She added: “My message, in the first instance, is to be on your guard.  Please be aware of the risks of using these websites.

“If you have, and are contacted by a blackmailer, don’t panic. Don’t respond to demands and don’t enter into further communication.

"If you can, confide in a trusted friend or family member, and please contact officers immediately on 101 or via our online reporting tool at https://reporting.psni.police.uk/report/crime .”