Updated: Oct 3, 2020
By Simon Lyu, Technical Writer and Jonathan Williams, Executive Director, CI2
What is sextortion?
The FBI defines sextortion as "a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don't provide them images of sexual nature, sexual favors, or money."
What is the new form of sextortion?
Earlier this week, the FBI reported cases of sextortion in Arizona involving a predator forcing teenagers to produce sexual content with “threats of [bodily] harm and exposure of the early images” if they refused. This is a new form of sextortion that forces the victim to continue producing sexual content.
How is the new form of sextortion different?
A conventional sextortion involves a scammer claiming that your account has been hacked and that they have video proof of you watching sexual content online. Hence, sextortion has been known as “webcam blackmail”. The scammer threatens you on the premise that if you do not pay them in cryptocurrency (such as Bitcoin to keep their identity anonymous), they will release the video to the public.
Unlike the conventional scheme which demands that you make a single payment to buy your way out of embarrassment, the new sextortion scheme demands that you continually produce sexual content or risk having previously-taken images exposed, essentially binding you to a series of perpetual transactions.
Other new forms of sextortion scheme: Fake accounts on dating websites!
According to a report from WCNC, a male college student in North Carolina met someone on a dating app and started chatting with her when he received a naked picture. Soon after, he received a phone call from a man claiming to be the girl's father who said that the girl was underage and threatened to sue him unless he made payments. The student later received voicemails from someone claiming to be a police officer who said the case would drop if the student and the so-called father came to a financial agreement. In this case, the fact that the scammers called from Voice Over IP (VOIP) phone numbers made it difficult to track them.
Another tactic, exposed by a cybersecurity analysis site, involves extortionists who create fake accounts on dating websites pretending to be a young woman looking for a partner. Once an unsuspecting candidate begins chatting with the fake account, the extortionists extract personal information from the victim including name, phone number, address, and sexual preferences. Screenshots of the chat (that include personal details) and explicit pictures are then published on forums. To be unlisted from the forums, the extortionists demand money from the victim.
How to protect yourself online
CI2 recommends that:
1. First and foremost, from a “Physical Safety” point of view, NEVER take a photo of yourself in the nude, or have a photo taken of yourself. From a “Digital Safety” point of view, make sure you have a very good anti-virus, internet security software protecting your computer. In addition, make sure you have something covering your webcam, whether it be a sticky note, a cloth, or a makeshift divider. No matter who asks during dating online, never reveal yourself in the nude.
2. Never send a video or image of yourself to someone because you were pressured, even from someone you care about. This is paramount to revealing yourself. Some of those times, it is a hacker, or a stalker in disguise that is trying to bait you.
3. If you fall victim to a sextortion, revenge porn, or revealing photos of you posted online, contact those websites and get them taken down, contact the police to report this, and contact an attorney for further considerations to the law from a criminal and civil point of view.
4. If someone shares a sexual image with you, do not reciprocate, do not share, post, or forward these images. If it is a minor under 18, this is a serious offense and needs to be reported to law enforcement, and/or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Sharing of any of these images could be criminal or civil in nature.
5. If a stranger asked for a video, photo, or webcam of you, it could be a scam, and could lead to further problems. Do not respond and consider reporting to police. If it involved a minor or anyone under 18 years of age, contact the Cyber Tip Line at 1-800-843-5678.
6. There are resources for victim advocacy, if you have already had problems, these resources are the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative at https://www.cybercivilrights.org/, National Organization for Victim Assistance https://www.trynova.org/. If the victim is under 18, consider contacting the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at https://www.missingkids.org/.
7. If you feel that you need any further assistance, please contact us with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.