Sextortion Scams

Sometimes the extortion is real. But often it’s not.

Threatening to publicize a compromising photograph or video to embarrass someone is hardly a new phenomenon. But 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. When that’s the goal, it’s called “sextortion.”

What makes sextortion particularly onerous is that sometimes the extortion is real, and sometimes – perhaps most of the time – it’s totally fabricated. A scam.

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 you hand over whatever amount of money they want. Or that they’ve hacked into your computer and accessed your internet file and knows 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 part of a 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 can contact each and every one of them.  

This real-life story is important not only because it demonstrates how scammers can readily obtain personal details of the people they target. But also how little research they really do about them. 

If you think you’ve been the victim of a sextortion scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack