Callous foreign thieves are stealing holidaymakers’ mobile phones and demanding cash to stop embarrassing images being posted online.
One victim, Scottish tourist Ryan Hall, had his dream holiday to Tunisia ruined when a thief snatched his phone and threatened to post sensitive material about his girlfriend on the internet.
Ryan, 21, was shocked when a text message was sent from the stolen iPhone demanding 2,000 euros – around £1,600.
Crime experts are warning the “ransom texts” sting is being repeated across southern Europe and north Africa. They claim tourists are at serious risk of blackmail if they become victims.
Harry Fletcher, boss of the Digital Trust, said: “We have heard of many occasions of criminals abroad stealing phones or computers to get confidential information, videos and photos.
“Their very sinister reason is that they know a significant proportion of phones will contain intimate pictures or videos. It is a growing and worrying trend.”
In Ryan’s case, the blackmailer said if he did not pay the money, compromising photos of beautician girlfriend Charlotte Keeney, 18, would be posted online.
Incredibly, Ryan said the thief went through his iPhone telephone address book, contacting his mum.
When he refused to pay, the sick blackmailer bombarded his mum and Charlotte’s phone with messages.
The conversation ended with the chilling text: “OK, tomorrow it’s big surprise for you. Bye bye.”
“It is unbelievable,” said student Ryan. “It was bad enough someone had nicked my phone while I was on holiday but to then threaten and blackmail is just the lowest of the low.
“He says he’s going to publish the pictures and video on sites like Facebook. The threats have really scared us both.”
Charlotte and Ryan, who is originally from Glasgow, were setting off home from a sunny week-long stay at the Sentido Phenicia Hotel in Hammamet, Tunisia, when his phone was snatched.
They were waiting for their bus connection to the airport when he put his £500 mobile on a table. Immediately, a man at the stop grabbed the phone and ran off.
Ryan and Charlotte now face an agonising wait to see if he will follow through with his threats. Ryan, who now lives in Sittingbourne, Kent, described it as a “terrible situation”.
Mr Fletcher said Ryan did the right thing by “calling the blackmailer’s bluff”.
He said: “They will be stealing seven or eight phones a day hoping someone will pay them. If you say ‘no’, they will move on to the next victim.”
A Thomas Cook spokesman said: “Our team in the resort did their utmost to assist Mr Hall at the time, and we are cooperating fully with the local authorities as their investigation into the incident continues.”
Researchers recently revealed iPhones are the make most commonly stolen by crooks.
Sexual cyber crime, or sextortion, is a growing global problem. Last year, Daniel Perry, a 17-year-old mechanic from Fife, committed suicide after falling prey to blackmailers on Skype.