What is Sextortion, and How Can You Protect Yourself?

  • By Greg Brown
  • Sep 02, 2022

 what is sextortion

Online predators have been the fastest-growing crime segment since the beginning of the pandemic. FBI’s annual Internet Crime Division reported a nearly four-fold increase in cybercrime, with total losses exceeding $4.2 billion in 2019 alone. By 2025, estimated losses will exceed $10.5 trillion worldwide at an annual growth rate of 15 percent. 

The above statistics are astonishing, to say the least. The top three reported crimes are phishing scams, non-payment/non-delivery scams, and extortion. Victims are losing vast sums of money. 

Sextortion is one of the many ways predators extort money from online users. At first glance, sextortion would suggest someone is forced, against their will, to perform sexual favors. Again, according to the FBI, most cases of sextortion occur when confidential or sensitive material is posted to the internet in return for money or sexual favors. 

Sextortion is a global concern and rising sharply. Another shocking statistic; 71% of all cases involve victims under the age of 18. Females, adults, and minors are primary targets of sextortion schemes. 

Tragedy

So much heartbreak and tragedy exist for victims of online sextortion. Victims, usually children, easily fall prey to cybercrime and will likely pay any ransom rather than face the embarrassing repercussions. Sextortion is a big concern for businesses and governments, with the thought of an extorted employee handing over confidential documents.

Military personnel is another prime target for online predators. The military offers a backdoor to classified information making sextortion a national security issue. A tragic consequence of the hideous crime of sextortion is the dramatic rise in suicide from every age group, especially in the military. Victims see no way out from predator demands. 

Sextortion Methods

Cybercriminals find varied ways to attack unwitting victims. If one method breaks down, there are other ways to attack the innocent. With the considerable amount of people online, there is always a perfect pool of victims for extortionists.

Hacked Webcams

Hacked home and business webcams are one of the most common and creepy methods of stealing personal images and sensitive documentation. Users open attached files from someone they do not know, and malware is easily installed on the person’s computer with access to webcams. Downloaded keyloggers allow hackers to access bank and credit card accounts and personal files sent to girlfriends and boyfriends. 

Social Media Hacks

Social media hacking is one of the original forms of sextortion. Harmless encounters over social media and dating apps lead to more intimate discussions. Once trust has been established, it becomes a matter of time before perpetrators coerce victims into sending explicit images and holding them for ransom. 

Children Have Long Been the Targets of Sextortionists 

The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children began tracking sextortion in 2013 and immediately saw a dramatic rise in cases. Predators approach the child through social media to learn about the child’s interests, friends at school, and family members. 

how to prevent sextortion

Staggering statistics discovered by the NCMEC: starting in 1998, over 12.7 million cases of child sexual exploitation were reported to the organization’s tipline. In 2016 alone, 8.2 million cases were reported. 

The perpetrator’s first step is moving the discussion with the child to another platform, such as a video or messaging app. Children are offered money, drugs, and options like work at a modeling agency in exchange for explicit sexual images. Early statistics discovered by the NCMEC found that 78% of the victims were female, ranging from eight to seventeen years old.

  • Scams using email are the most prevalent form of online extortion. An incoming email arrives with a password to one of the user’s accounts. The predator threatens to publish harvested sexual images unless they send money or additional content performing sexual acts. 
  • Technology allows for more forms of connectivity, and predators are taking an aggressive approach to get the sexual content they require. Explicit videos and images are sent to a young person requesting to return the same type of content to the predator. Sextortion begins when the child returns the sexual images, and blackmail for sex starts.

Surviving Sextortion

Sextortion is snowballing, primarily due to the ease of victims falling prey to the scams. Once victims are in the grip of a predator, the crime becomes one of complete shame and embarrassment. The increased number of relationships forged through social media means more sextortion cases. Children falling victim to online crimes is astonishing. 

Tips to Protect Yourself and Those Around You from Sextortion

Never send intimate videos or images to anyone. Avoid storing intimate images on your computer; malware quickly discovers every file. Always use strong passwords for your accounts. These simple suggestions reduce the chance of finding passwords through a brute force attack.

  • It never hurts to dig deeper into the backgrounds of people who want to become serious friends. Scammers create dozens of fake identities in the hope of luring unsuspecting victims. You can also keep up with scam news to educate yourself on what to watch for.
  • Parents should forever be on the lookout for online predators. Children are considered the primary target of sextortion cybercriminals due to their uninhibited nature. If a child uses the internet, they are a target. Children must understand the risks of using online social media, dating, and messaging apps, and parents are the ones who need to teach them. Parents may consider spending a few dollars each month and purchasing a VPN service. A VPN encrypts all internet traffic, making it unreadable to predators. Children will likely hate it, but it may become a necessary step.
  • Sextortion may be the most embarrassing personal episode a person must endure; the event must be reported to the police and FBI as soon as possible. Sextortion is a serious crime; no one knows how far a predator will pursue the blackmail. If the embarrassment is too much, talk to a counselor. Many organizations have been formed to help children and adults fall victim to sextortion. Text (741741) THORN to start your conversation with a counselor.

As more online cases are reported, the ways to protect yourself also grow. The most substantial advice is to use common sense. Everyone wants to believe true love exists; however, if someone comes along, primarily online, and sounds too good to be true, they usually are. Always think rationally about the relationships you nurture.

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