Image: Francisco Gonzalez
The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has warned of a massive increase in sextortion complaints since the start of 2021, resulting in total financial losses of more than $8 million until the end of July.
The federal agency received over 16,000 sextortion complaints until July 31, almost half of them coming from victims in the 20-39 age group.
“Victims over 60 years comprised the third largest reporting age group, while victims under the age of 20 reported the fewest number of complaints,” the IC3 said.
Sextortion occurs when criminals threaten potential victims in person or via email, dating sites, and online chats that they will leak sensitive or private videos or photos unless a ransom is not paid.
As an email scam, sextortion was first seen in July 2018, when fraudsters started emailing targets claiming that they have them recorded on video while browsing adult sites, also including the victims’ passwords (leaked in data breaches) to increase credibility.
Scammers behind email sextortion campaigns also distribute various strains of malware, ranging from data-stealing Trojans to ransomware.
“Most victims report the initial contact with the fraudster is mutual and made using dating websites and apps. Soon after the encounter, the fraudster requests the interaction be moved from the website or app to another messaging platform,” the IC3 explained.
“The fraudster instigates the exchange of sexually explicit material and then encourages the victim to participate via video chat or send their own explicit photos. Immediately after the victim complies, the fraudster blackmails the victim and demands money to prevent the release of the photos or videos on social media.”
To make things even scarier for the victims, the crooks also often gain access to their victim’s social media or contact info, threatening to send the sexual imagery they got their hands on to the victim’s family and friends.
Those finding themselves on the receiving end of sextortion threats are advised to immediately stop all interaction with the criminals, contact law enforcement, and file a complaint with the FBI IC3 at www.ic3.gov as soon as possible.
The IC3 also shared several tips to protect yourself from extortion attempts:
- NEVER send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are or who they say they are.
- Do not open attachments from people you do not know. Links can secretly hack your electronic devices using malware to access your private data, photos, and contacts or control your web camera and microphone without your knowledge.
- Turn off your electronic devices and web cameras when not in use.