Essex Snapchat blackmailer case highlights online dangers, charity warns

Snapchat blackmailer Akash Sondhi was jailed for 11 at Basildon Crown Court

Akash Sondhi was jailed for 11 years after blackmailing girls to send him intimate images over Snapchat - Credit: Essex Police

The case of an Essex man who hacked girls' Snapchat accounts and blackmailed them into sending intimate images highlights the "dangers of the online world", a charity has warned. 

Akash Sondhi, 27, targeted 574 victims from across the world – including the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, Romania and beyond on the picture-sharing service. 

Between 2015 and 2020, Sondhi hacked into the Snapchat accounts of girls and young women, aged between 16 and 25, and told them if they did not send him new nude images of themselves then he would post existing intimate images of them to their friends and family.

His address in Hedingham Road, Chafford Hundred, near Grays, was raided by officers from Essex Police's cyber crime unit on March 19 last year when several victims came forward.

Sondhi admitted a total of 65 offences – including hacking, blackmail, and voyeurism – and at Basildon Crown Court on Tuesday he was sentenced to 11 years in prison, and placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for 10 years.

Anna Collishaw-Nikodemus, NSPCC local campaigns manager, said while the internet has been "invaluable" for young people during the coronavirus pandemic, it remains a place where children are at risk of harm. 

"Sondi’s use of Snapchat to target children highlights the risks young people can face when using social media platforms," she said. 

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"We know that the internet has been invaluable for children and young people throughout the pandemic, especially while schools have been closed, as it has allowed them to connect with each other, learn and be entertained. However, it is also a place where children are at risk of being groomed, abused and exposed to harmful content.

"According to a recent NSPCC survey, completed by over 2,000 young people, one in 25 young people have sent, received or been asked to send sexual content to an adult.

"This case highlights the potential dangers of the online world and Sondi used a platform that is known to be popular with children and young people alike. Sometimes, for a number of different reasons, children do not want to talk to their parents about upsetting things that happen online, but they can talk to a Childline counsellor confidentially if they need to."

An announcement by the government last month regarding its proposed Online Harms Bill was a landmark step towards improving the safety of social media for children, following years of campaigning by the NSPCC, Ms Collishaw-Nikodemus added. 

"We will continue to scrutinise the proposed legislation and work with parliament and the regulator Ofcom, to ensure the bill is fit to force tech companies to prevent abusers like Sondi from using these platforms to target young people," she said. 

Speaking after the sentence, Detective Sergeant Ian Collins, from the Essex Police cyber crime unit, said: “The sentence Akash Sondhi has received reflects how much distress he caused to his victims.

“This is a wakeup call for anyone committing this type of crime we will catch you and bring you to justice, and you can go to prison for the distress caused to the victims.

“I urge anyone using social media not to store intimate images of themselves to secure and protect your data and make sure you don’t become a victim.

“Don’t share passwords even if you think it’s a trusted friend that asks you for them, it might not be."

To learn more about children staying safe on the internet and apps, visit Essex Police's website here

If anyone you know has been impacted by a similar issue, contact the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre at Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use Action Fraud's online reporting tool.

People can also seek support from the NSPCC by calling 0800 1111.