MORE than 250 people in North Yorkshire have been targeted by 'sextortionists' - criminals who attempt to extort money by threatening to share intimate photos - already this year.

And police warn that with sextortion on the rise there may actually be far more victims - with many reluctant to come forward.

But they say victims should NEVER pay up - and they SHOULD report the crime to police.

'Sextortion' is a form of blackmail. It involves threatening to publish sexual information, photos or videos of someone, usually to extort money.

A typical threat will go something like: 'Transfer the money or we'll share your pictures'.

"Criminals target people through dating apps, social media or pornography sites," a spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police said.

"They may use a fake identity to befriend you online, tell you to send them pictures or videos - and then threaten to send them to your family and friends."

Police warn that sextortion is on the increase.

"Unfortunately it's getting more and more common," the spokesperson said.

"Shockingly, 54 victims in York and 212 victims in North Yorkshire have received messages like this since the start of the year."

"And that's just the reports to the police - there may of course be many more victims out there who haven't come forward."

Police say sextortion can happen to anyone - but they say victims should NOT pay out.

There are several things you should do if you are a loved one are targeted, officers say:

Don't panic: help and support is available Don't pay Do not communicate with the person targeting you Save the evidence: take screenshots, save messages and images, or collect URL links to where the information is being shared online Report it to your internet service provider, and social media companies (like Snapchat or Facebook) if communication happened on these channels Report it to the police.

"We understand that it might be difficult to report this type of crime to us," the police spokesperson said. "But remember, our officers are here to listen and to support you in any way we can."

If you or a loved one has been a victim of sextortion, you can report it online by visiting the North Yorkshire Police website and clicking the 'report it' tab, or by calling 101.

Police say there are also lots of reliable online resources for those worried about Sextortion. These include the Revenge Porn Helpline, the National Crime Agency (NCA), the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP), as well as Get Safe Online.