‘Catfishing’ case told there may be thousands of victims

In an earlier Blog we advised of a case of ‘catfishing’ (when a person pretends to be someone else to entice victims in online scams or abuse). We highlighted the issue and we raised the concern at the liability internet providers or employers may face for failing to prevent such attacks.

Newry Magistrates court were informed that there was an intention on the part of US authorities to seek the extradition of a 21 year old computer science student from Northern Ireland. The case relates to attempted blackmail of young people from around the world in what is now thought to be the largest “catfishing” child abuse investigation in the UK.

The student has already been charged with sexual activity, threats and intimidation and attempted sexual abuse of children but may now face even greater charges. The worldwide nature of the investigation was highlighted in a procedural hearing before the court this week and it was clear the victims stretch as far away as New Zealand.  The sheer scale of the case has led to the PSNI creating a team dedicated to this matter and to the paedophile network connected to it.

The court were told that the charges currently before it were sample charges and reflected only the “tip of the iceberg” in regard to the total extent of the abuse identified. The US have now contacted the PSNI indicating a desire to extradite the student because of the involvement, or potential involvement, of US residents purchasing indecent pictures of children from the Catfish.

The case has been adjourned for a further month but the Prosecution have indicated that it will be into the new year before they are ready for a formal hearing and even by that stage the extent of the abuse and the identities of all the victims and the participants will not have been completed.

Fintan Canavan, Partner, BLM

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