Attempts to blackmail teenagers who were coerced online into sharing explicit images of themselves are being investigated by gardaí.
In a number of separate cases in Co Meath over the past few weeks, the teenagers were issued with demands for thousands of euro to stop the images being shared online and with friends and family.
Local Crime Prevention Officer Sgt Dean Kerins, who advised the young men after the incidents, is now urging teenagers to be very careful on the internet, especially in accepting friend requests from strangers.
"In recent weeks, there have been a number of cases of young teenagers who have been blackmailed after sharing sensitive images online," he said.
"These young lads between 16 and 17 got a friend request from a pretty stranger. An automated conversation ensued and they were sent a naked picture from the 'girl', asking for one in return.
"Naively, they sent one back and then received demands for thousands of euro, threatening to post the images online and to family members if they didn't pay up.
"In one case, demands were as high as €8,000 and in another, the blackmailer reduced the payment to €300 when the teenager said he wouldn’t pay it.
"These young men are worried sick that the images will appear online but thankfully, all of them had the sense not to pay and raise the alarm.”
The Gardaí advised the boys to block the person and turn off their phones.
"Unfortunately many teenagers work and have money in a bank account that they would access in fear to pay a demand. But these blackmailers will only come back for more and more,” Sgt Kerins said.
"People just refuse to believe that these things happen in Ireland and on your doorstep. Interpol shared a video a few years ago on this but again, people think it only happens elsewhere. Unfortunately it does happen here but often, people are too embarrassed to report them
"People put their lives on social media these days without even thinking of the consequences down the line in terms of security. Everyone needs to be mindful of what they are posting and who they are talking to on social media. And it really is that simple."
If you believe you are a victim of this type of crime, Sgt Kerins advised to do the following:
"Don't share more and don't pay anything. Please look for help as you are not alone.
"Preserve evidence and don't delete anything but stop the communication. Block the person and report it to the Gardai and bring your tablet or laptop so they can examine it."
Anyone wishing to report such crimes can do so at any local garda station or contact the garda child sexual abuse helpline on 1800 555 222.