Computer hackers posing as Australian Federal Police tried to blackmail a teenage girl by remotely switching on her webcam and taking a photograph of her.
Consumer Protection has issued a warning about the ruthless new webcam extortion scams, after receiving several complaints. They include men involved in online romances being ordered to pay thousands of dollars to avoid having compromising photographs or vision of them released publicly or sent to relatives and friends.
It comes as UK authorities investigate links between a webcam blackmail plot and the death of a Scottish teenager who committed suicide in July.
The 17-year-old's family has told British media he had online Skype conversations with someone he believed was a 17-year-old girl. He was later contacted anonymously and told a recording of the conversations would be sent to his family unless he paid money. The teenager took his own life the next day.
An Australian mother said her 13-year-old was scared after a photograph of her in her pyjamas, taken without her knowledge minutes earlier, popped up on her computer screen.
It was purportedly from the AFP and warned she had been caught accessing pornography and her computer would be shut down unless she paid a $100 fine via "Ukash".
She immediately asked her mother for help, who realized that despite the document looking official, the demand to have the "fine" sent as a voucher seemed fake.
The teenager's mother said she worried whether her daughter's photograph had been circulated on the internet.
"We have security on our computer and thought the camera was off but they managed to turn it on remotely and take her photograph," she said.
Consumer Protection said the scammers gained access to their victim's computer through malicious software.
When they accessed illegal music and movie download sites or put certain words into search engines they were sent bogus pop-up messages warning authorities had frozen the computer and they had to pay a fine via ‘Ukash’ to unlock it.
Other people were recorded performing sexually explicit acts on webcam after being befriended through social networking sites and then blackmailed with the footage.
Consumer Protection commissioner Anne Driscoll warned people to never negotiate with or pay fraudsters.
"The emotional toll on the victims can be immense due to fear of embarrassment, especially if the victims are young," she said.
"This blackmail tactic is being blamed for the recent suicide of a teenage boy in the UK which is a major concern for us."
Authorities warned people to unplug webcams or cover the lens to prevent them being compromised. They said there were ways to unlock computers frozen by the AFP scam.