According to the FBI, sextortion is “a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.”
Another common threat is that the perpetrator threatens to harm your friends or family with information obtained from your phones or computers unless you comply with their sexual demands.
Sextortion has a devastating effect on victims of all ages, young and older. Many people don’t realize how easy it is to become a victim.
The use of extortion emails is growing significantly. In 2019 alone, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 51,146 reported crimes, which is an increase of 242%. These crimes had a total loss of $83 million. The majority of these email complaints were about sextortion emails, where compromising information would be shared if the victim didn’t pay the ransom.
How victims are sextorted
We deal with sextortion cases more than we would like. In most cases, we see that online perpetrators gain the victim’s trust by pretending to be someone else. Often they are in chat rooms, recording young people who post or live-stream sexually explicit images and videos of themselves. They may videotape these live-streams or make screenshots for extortion purposes. More tech-savvy perpetrators might hack into the victim’s electronic devices, use malware, and access their files, webcam, and microphone without the victim realizing it.
Another common situation is where a malicious ex, is extorting their former partner, with private sexual images or videos. They threaten to publish the material online or send it to the sextorted victim’s friends and loved ones.
How sextortion emails work
Sextortion emails often come from supposed hackers who claim to have hacked your electronic device, installed malware, and recorded you via your webcam while you were on a chat room website, porn website, or any other site.
Some extortion scams use some context to establish creditability, prior to asking for the extortion payoff. Using a password that most likely comes from a password database, the sender lets the victim know that they actually have personal information about the victim.
According to Priya Sopori, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted cybercrimes and sextortion, these scammers “play on our basest levels of psychology.”
“You will read personalization into any generic statement. And if you believe that there are hackers out there that know every aspect of your life, and maybe they even know your life better than you do, you might actually pay even if you’ve done nothing at all.”
The sextortion email usually starts with something like, “I’m aware that < recipient’s former password> is your password. With a recent sextortion email scam, recipients have come forward saying the password mentioned by the scammer is an actual password of the victim, but an old one.
Sextortion what to do
First of all, we want to urge people to have a healthy level of skepticism. It is highly unlikely that the scammer who sends the sextortion email knows you or has your information.
- Never send compromising images of yourself to anyone. No matter who they are, or who they say they are.
- Never open email attachments from someone you do not know.
- Please turn off your electronic devices and especially webcams when you are not using them.
- Regularly change passwords so you can be sure that any passwords mentioned in an alarming email are no longer in use.
For organizations, it’s essential to make users within your organization aware of email scams. Educate everyone on what to look out for and how to ignore emails safely. To do so, consider security awareness training to improve your organization’s security by making your users a part of the security strategy.
If you are sextorted through sextortion emails or any other type, you can report it to your IT department or local law enforcement. If they can’t help, you can report the emails to the FBI’s IC3.
If you need to identify your sexual perpetrator, our cybercrime investigators can help you. We dealt with many different types of sextortion cases and are happy to share our knowledge and assistance. Please contact our investigators by filling in our contact form, and we will be in touch soon.