Sextortion is when an individual is contacted by someone they met online on an app, messaging platform, or gaming site. Often, the communications are non-threatening at first, and the victim believes they are communicating with someone their age, as with children. Adult victims may believe the person they are communicating with is offering something of value. The communication then shifts to the suspect claiming to have a revealing picture or video of them and will send it to their friends and family if the victim doesn’t send more images. If the victim sends the suspect one or more videos or pictures, they continue to threaten to publish the content, with the end goal of extorting the victim for money. The shame, fear, and confusion victims feel when this crime victimizes them is the main reason they do not ask for help. Children are prone to remaining silent out of embarrassment and fear of getting in trouble with their parents. Parents and children should understand how this particular crime occurs and openly discuss online safety.
The goal of the criminal is to emotionally trigger people so that they will “take their bait” and pay up. This is the tactic for all scammers. There are many cases in which the criminals are just bluffing: they don’t have any sensitive videos or images of their victims but use fear as a motivator. However, this isn’t always the case. Perpetrators can obtain explicit images of victims in different ways:
Many of the reported cases in Greenwich involve sextortion email campaigns. These campaigns are used very widely, and anyone can become a victim. Attackers will draft an email to invoke fear and send it to hundreds of people. In the email, the perpetrator generally claims to have access to the victim’s webcam. They’ll say they used that access to film the victim while engaging in sexual acts. Alternatively, the suspect could threaten to release a list of adult websites visited by the victim. The criminal will demand payment using an untraceable method, such as gift cards and, in some cases, Bitcoin. The sextortion emails are most likely fake. The attacker doesn’t have any pictures or videos of you. Remember that hundreds, if not thousands, of these emails are sent to people. The criminal merely hopes to scare a handful of recipients into submission.
Another danger to be aware of when it comes to sextortion emails is malware. Criminals can include links or attachments in their emails that contain dangerous software, such as keyloggers.
When you get a sextortion email like this, keep these three rules in mind:
There is a lot of information parents can use to educate themselves and their children on how not to be a victim of sextortion. Below are links to resources that can be used to learn more about how to prevent being victimized:
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children - NetSmartz: Sextortion
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children - Sextortion: What Parents Should Know
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children - Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic
FBI.gov - Sextortion Scams
If you are the victim of a sextortion incident or any other scam, don't hesitate to contact the Greenwich Police Department at 203-622-8004 and report it.