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One of the fastest growing wrinkles in online crime is called “sextortion.” People are lured into sharing extremely personal photos or videos in an online conversation they think will remain private – only to find out they must pay blackmail money to keep those compromising images from being shared with a spouse or a boss. Those pictures might even end up on a website or all over social media if the blackmail isn’t paid.
Sextortion has been around for a while, but it has grown in frequency in recent years as people spend more and more time online.
The set-up can take a long time, as an online “friend” slowly builds up a false sense of trust with the potential victim. The blackmailer might start by sharing a few saucy details, maybe even sending a provocative image or two, before asking the mark to send something in return. Once the victim falls for that, bang – here comes the ransom demand. Often, the blackmailer wants bitcoin or some other difficult-to-trace currency. Always, the ransom demand comes from a bogus email address or anonymous online account.
Online blackmail and sextortion can be frustrating crimes to investigate. These criminals, because they work remotely via the internet, can be anywhere, and they are almost impossible to find.
Local police usually are not able to track the criminals down through all the bogus email and social accounts the crooks hide behind. Professional digital forensics examiners, however, can tackle these tough cases.
Every device that connects to the internet has a numerical code, called an IP address. At Digital Forensics Corp., our expert digital forensics investigators use a proprietary process called IP to Location ID to track down the IP address, service providers and geographic locations used by online blackmailers. That provides specific, solid evidence that law enforcement can use to take swift action.
In one recent case, Digital Forensics Corp. helped a church employee caught in just such a trap.
He was a widower and had become Facebook friends with a woman. Her profile seemed specifically designed to attract him — because it was. She was attractive, and she seemed to share all of his interests.
He was being set up. It’s called social engineering, and it is used to manipulate people online.
The virtual relationship went on for months as the woman built up a false sense of trust. Eventually, things took a romantic turn. They exchanged revealing photos; the ones he sent were genuine, but the ones he received in exchange were fake.
Then the woman suggested he send her a sexy video, and he did. Boom. The next message he got was a demand for money.
When he called Digital Forensics Corp., he was desperate, believing his life and reputation were in ruins. In this case, however, the forensics examiners turned the tables.
The first step was to identify every means of communication the blackmailer used, whether it was email, text messages, social media, whatever. In this instance, the blackmailer had used Facebook and a company that provided a virtual phone number, which was used for text messages.
Next, examiners used our IP to Location ID process and got the suspect’s IP address—the specific, unique code attached to every device connected to the internet. Examiners also identified the internet service provider along with the type of device used.
The client was able to take all this evidence to the police. With that arsenal of information, police went to the service platforms to quickly access the suspect’s name, billing information and location. That turned out to be in another state, but local police contacted officers there and an arrest was made quickly.
As this type of crime grows in frequency, there will be more people desperate for help. Digital forensics is the best tool for fighting back and earning peace of mind.
To find out more about how Digital Forensics Corp. combat sextortion, click here.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is designed for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. Further, your use of this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship. Online readers should not act upon any information presented on this blog without first seeking professional legal counsel. Legal advice cannot be provided without full consideration of all relevant information relating to one’s individual situation. For specific, technical, or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author. The author apologizes for any factual or other errors in this blog. If you believe that some content is inaccurate, false, disparaging, slanderous, libelous, or defamatory, please contact the author directly at (StevenG.@digitalforensics.com). Information herein is provided on an “as is” or “as available” basis; we make no warranty of any kind to you regarding the information provided and disclaim any liability for damages from use of the blog or its content.
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