What is Sextortion?
Sextortion is a form of blackmail, in which someone threatens to release sexual photos, videos, or information about a victim if the victim doesn't comply with their demands. The ransoms range from forcing victims to pay to prevent exposing explicit material they have sent voluntarily, to making them engage in humiliating acts over video chat.
In most cases, perpetrators convince their victims to send them sexually explicit photos or videos under the guise of a more intimate relationship, such as convincing a victim they were in an online relationship. The perpetrator will then threaten to post the images if their victims don't provide ransom.
Who Is At Risk?
You may be the victim of a sextortion scam if you've engaged in conduct that is considered embarrassing by your peers, such as sending explicit pictures or videos, or engaging in sexual video chats. These scammers will try to use this information against you and threaten you or your loved ones unless ransom payments are made quickly.
So who is at-risk of a sextortion scam? The answer, unfortunately, is anyone and everyone. Since their goal is purely financial, their preferred type of target tends toward people with apparent wealth or high-income careers, but ultimately, they will target any demographic willing to engage with them. Another trait they tend to focus on is marital status, if their victim is married or in a long-term relationship, they know they'll even have more leverage against them when it comes to paying ransoms.
These scammers search mainly on social media platforms such as Facebook Instagram, and WhatsApp, because those apps make up about 50% total global mobile data traffic; making them prime locations to find potential victims. Dating and hookup sites are another hunting ground for victims, and even mobile games are not safe.
Red Flags and Typical Sextortion Tactics
Sextortion typically begins when the victim is approached through a private message or comments on their social media or dating site account. Online games where messages between players occur is another common hotspot. The scammer will then develop a persona that is intended to easily "dupe" the victim into believing they are talking to someone genuine. Their online presence is often carefully crafted to look legitimate, and will often show their location as local to their victim.
The scammers will quickly begin communicating about sexting, pornography, and other sexually explicit topics in order to break down any inhibitions or reservation their victim has. They will create a false sense of intimacy and willingness to engage, only to later request photos or videos that are sexually explicit.
If the victim does, in fact, send these images or videos to them they will then begin threatening to publish them if their victim doesn't pay. The scammers will use knowledge of the victims' lives they've gathered through searches to develop more personal and sinister threats. Their scare tactics include screenshotting the victim's friend or contact lists, or drafts of messages containing explicit content being prepared to send to the victim’s friends, family and colleagues. One of their most damaging tactics is fabricating stories of sexual assault, or framing the victim to look like they were engaging in sexual conversations with minors.
If the victim complies with their demands, the scammer will continue to find ways to blackmail them until they can no longer pay, eventually releasing the material in a last-ditch effort for payment.
How Common Is Sextortion?
There is little to no data on how many people get targeted by these scammers. There are also very few global organizations specifically dedicated to combating this form of cybercrime. Sextortion usually originates from a few regions, namely West Africa and the Philippines.
Sextortion is a relatively new phenomenon and has only come into the spotlight since about 2012. The United States Department of Justice has only listed sextortion as a standalone crime since 2015, however local law enforcement may lump it in with other crimes such as blackmail and extortion, making it difficult to collate real statistics on the number of cases filed each year. Another reason we do not have concrete figures is because victims are often too embarrassed to admit they have engaged in sexual activity online, or are otherwise coerced into paying. This is especially true if the victim is younger or new to social media platforms, where there may be legal consequences involved for sexually explicit images posted on the internet.
What we do know is that some of the cases which have been publicized garner massive attention. The case of Amanda Todd, a teenage girl who took her own life after being targeted and blackmailed with explicit photos on the internet, attracted international attention and sparked new legislation around sextortion crimes.
In 2015, the FBI reported that over 2,000 potential sextortion cases were being recorded each month. That alone is staggering, but one must remember that these represent only the incidents which have become known to law enforcement, another statistic lacking concrete figures for this crime.
But even with all the uncertainty surrounding how common sextortion is, there is help.
What To Do If You're Being Sextorted
Sextortion is on the rise, and these criminals will follow through on their threats - so if an online contact threatens such, take the steps below to protect yourself:
- Try not to panic.
- Remain in communication with the extortionist, blocking or ignoring them will provoke a negative response.
- Don't pay any ransom, they will just ask for more.
- Buy yourself time, and extend their deadlines for payment.
- Document as much as you can, including screenshots of conversations and any payment information they have sent you.
- Secure all social media and dating platforms - don't delete accounts, but do go through and tighten up all security settings as much as possible.
- Lastly, get help.
Who Can Help
A licensed, experienced company familiar with Sextortion will be your best bet in stopping these criminals in their tracks, and minimizing any damage to your personal and professional life. Digital Forensics Corp has years of experience handling these cases quickly and discreetly. We can help get these criminals off your back, and work tirelessly to prevent your content from being exposed. You do not want to navigate this dangerous situation alone. If you have fallen victim to this scam, contact us today for a free consultation to see how we can best help.