What is sextortion?
Have you ever heard of “sextortion”? It’s a crime that has been increasingly talked about in recent years, and for good reason. Sextortion has become so prevalent that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, issued a public safety alert regarding the increase in incidents of children being coerced into sending explicit images of themselves online and then being extorted for money.
According to the FBI, they received over 7,000 reports related to the crime of “financial sextortion” in the past year alone, resulting in at least 3,000 victims and causing over one dozen suicides. This is a concerning trend that is not just affecting our youth but also adults.
The internet has provided an easy avenue for sextortionists to prey on their victims from the safety of their own homes. They are motivated by money, power, and control and often target vulnerable individuals who are struggling financially, emotionally, or mentally. Younger individuals, who have yet to fully develop emotionally and mentally, are some of the easiest targets and the most commonly reported victims are males between the ages of 14-17 years old.
There are two types of sextortion: traditional and financial. Traditional sextortion occurs when a victim is threatened or blackmailed into providing more sexual imagery. The sextortionist threatens to share the victim’s nude or sexual images with the public. Financial sextortion, on the other hand, involves the predator demanding money or gift cards in exchange for keeping the victim’s sexual images private.
How does sextortion happen?
They often begin their work by creating fake profiles or adopting the identity of someone known to the victim. Typically, they make first contact through social media, gaming applications, and/or dating applications. They use social engineering tactics to gain the trust of their victim. Once they’ve accomplished this, they will ask the victim to move to a second or third platform that uses encrypted messaging. This makes it more difficult for law enforcement to track their crimes. They record and save entire conversations and videos to use later while continuing to gain the victim’s trust. Once they have accomplished infiltrating the victim’s circle they will use public social media profiles of their family and acquaintances to learn more about their victims. They will meticulously comb through friend lists and gather other personal information that they can use against their target to harm their reputation or make threats.
How can you identify whether sextortion is happening to you or your family member?
The Department of Homeland Security has provided a list of common tactics used by predators to lure victims, which can serve as red flags to watch out for such activity.
- Building a false relationship with the victim
- Secretly recording explicit videos and messages during chats
- Using multiple identities to contact the victim
- Pretending to be someone of a different age or gender
- Hacking accounts to steal sexual images
- Threatening to commit suicide if the victim refuses to send images
- Visiting public social media profiles to find out more about the victim, including accessing the victim’s friend list and searching for other personal information that can harm the victim’s reputation.
What can you do to prevent sextortion?
To protect the most vulnerable, teaching children proper internet etiquette and safety is the first step. Teach them to NEVER SEND ILLICIT IMAGES TO ANYONE. Minors sharing images online is not only illegal but poses a huge risk that could follow them for years to come. It is important for everyone, not just minors to understand that once something is on the internet there is no turning back and can be used against you.
Here are some guidelines on how to stay safe on the internet and avoid sextortion and other criminal activity from reaching through the internet and affecting you for both adults and minors.
- Don’t accept a friend request from anyone online you don’t know in real life.
- Don’t give any personal contact info (email or social handles) to anyone you haven’t met in person.
- If someone you don’t know asks for personally identifying information, say no.
- Never share your passwords with anyone.
- Don’t fill out and social media posts that reveal any personal information.
- Don’t use weak passwords that could be guessed, such as pets’ names, birth dates or anything that someone can guess by reviewing your social media.
- Don’t click on links in e-mails or text messages that come from people you don’t know.
- Teach your teens to report threats. Though they may be stressed or embarrassed, talk to your them about online safety and encourage them to come forward when they receive a suspicious email, text message, or direct message.
- Be cautious of the recording devices you have in your home. Some low-security devices (such as baby monitors and nanny cams) are easy to exploit. Implement extra security protocols through your home router. Ensure your home wifi is password protected.
- Assume your webcam or recording devices can be activated remotely. Never have your phone or other electronic camera devices pointed at you while undressing or in a position you would not want to share with the world.
- Cover your webcam when you’re not using it; if your webcam doesn’t have a built-in cover, use a sticker or piece of tape to cover it.
How do you report sextortion?
This varies whether the victim is an adult or a minor.
First and foremost:
- Report the predator’s accounts to the platform.
- Save all conversations, chats or messages between the predator and the victim.
- Block the predator.
- Do not delete your accounts.
- Change your account passwords for safety.
- Refuse to pay or send more images, which makes things worse.
- Report to the proper authorities.
- Get support for the victim. Do not be judgmental.