Sometimes sextortion scams are real. But most often they’re not.
Threatening to publicize a compromising photograph or video to embarrass someone is hardly a new phenomenon. The rise of the internet, the social media and smart phone apps have all facilitated the rapid growth of what has become known as “sexting” — the digital dissemination of sexually explicit personal property without permission. Because instances of sexting are widely reported, the very fear of it has provided scammers with yet another opportunity to extort money from innocent victims. Sextortion scams.
What makes sextortion scams particularly onerous is that sometimes the extortion is real, and sometimes – perhaps most of the time – it’s totally fabricated. But the victim may not know that.
How They Set You Up
Sextortion scammers often hide out on legitimate dating sites. They’ll pose as legitimate singles and post some revealing photos along with fake but enticing descriptions of themselves. If you message them they’ll message back and attempt to strike up a conversation. Personal emails and phone numbers are exchanged. Before you know it you’ll either be asked either if you’d like to see a revealing photo or send one of yourself. In other words, they lure you into sexting.
Once you receive such a photo you’re likely to get a phone call from someone claiming to be either a police officer, a lawyer for the family or the young woman’s father. That person will then inform you that your love interest is underage and that you are being investigated for possessing child pornography. Unless, of course, you pay the father an indemnity, in which case he won’t press charges.
Another version skips those preliminaries. The scammers contact you directly, either by email or phone. They’ll say that they have a video of you committing adultery and will post it online. Unless, of course, you hand over whatever amount of money they want. Or that they hacked into your computer and accessed your internet file. So they know what porn sites you’ve been watching and when you watched them. They’ll also say they downloaded your email so they can send all your relatives, friends and work colleagues links to the videos.
Unless, of course, you pay them not to do so.
Clearly, the scammer is taking a chance. After all, not everyone commits adultery. Not everyone is married. Not everyone videos intimate encounters. And not everyone who watches online porn leaves a digital trail. Whoever wants to can clear their browsing data immediately afterwards.
Lying Is Part of a Scammer’s Business Plan
Sextortion scammers may play all of their cards and claim that there was a hidden camera or whatever. Lying is the bottom line in the scammer’s business plan. They’re willing to take a few stabs in the dark because they know that eventually they’ll be lucky and find someone else who does fit the bill. But sometimes these criminals make big mistakes. Really big mistakes.
In 2019, 86-year-old Chicago woman signed up online with a popular café chain to get a free bagel on her birthday. Immediately afterwards she began receiving emails notifying her that she was recorded watching porn on her computer. And if she wanted to obtain the recording and prevent it from going viral she would have to fork over the equivalent of $1,400 in bitcoin. The woman barely knew how to operate her computer, and, therefore, knew it was a scam.
It turned out that the café chain’s website had been hacked. The hacker walked off with the names and contact information of as many as 10,000 customers. And the scammer could contact each and every one of them.
This real-life story is important not only because it demonstrates how sextortion scams can readily obtain personal details of the people they target. But also how little research the scammers really conduct.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a sextortion scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.