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As I sit to write this piece I am actually just not sure where to start. All I really want to say is “DON’T DO IT! It may seem ‘hot’ at the time, but it’s a bad idea!”

I am, of course, referring to sexting. The thing about sexting is that is can easily turn into a sextortion nightmare. If you are not familiar with the term, then just break it up: sex and extortion. Another word for extortion is blackmail.

We have created content on online extortion and sexting, which I would love for you to either watch or read, but there is a place where those two overlap and it’s a place you just don’t want to be. Extortion comes down to someone having some kind of evidence or proof of something that makes you look bad. That evidence gives them the power to demand something of you in return for the evidence never seeing the light of day. Traditionally that would have been evidence of fraud or some other kind of crime whether it is a big personal secret or not but lately, blackmail content has become more sexual in nature.

The problem with sextortion is the issue of reputation. If the content gets out into the digital world then you are disgraced, and yet people seem to be just as embarrassed by the idea of reporting it.

Most victims will remain silent about the threats because the can’t quite believe they are in the position in the first place. Only approximately 17% of sextortion victims will report it to law enforcement. The silent victims will choose to either give in to what the extortionist is requesting or hope that the threat is empty. However, a study released by Thorn shows that up to 45% of the perpetrators do actually carry out their threats and the victims are not necessarily adults! 2 in 3 Sextortion victims are girls under the age of 16.

“Who is doing this?” you may ask. Well, according to that same study, 40% of the victims met the person extorting them online and the remaining 60% knew the perpetrator in person. These could be jilted ex-lovers or even colleagues hell-bent on harassment or control.

One of the earliest political scandals in US history involved founding father Alexander Hamilton. He entered into an affair with a woman whose husband found out and then extorted him for money in exchange for silence. Those of us theatre nerds who have seen the musical “Hamilton” will be familiar with this lyric:

Uh-oh! You made the wrong sucker a cuckold so time to pay the piper for the pants you unbuckled and hey, “you can keep seein’ my *#!$* wife if the price is right. If not, I’m telling your wife.”

So this is not a new concept! Nor is it a rare case here and there as it’s only getting worse. In July 2018, the FBI received 13,000 more sextortion complaints than it had in the previous month. Not 13 000… 13000 MORE. In the UK more than 1300 cases were reported in 2017 which is three times the number in 2015, this does not include all the cases that go unreported…

Lets take a look at some recent real life examples and methods of extortion:

1) Malware – In 2010, Luis Mijangos plead guilty to extorting hundreds of women (many of them minors) through malware that allowed him to unknowingly take over their webcams and record them getting undressed or doing a variety of different things while nude. He would then demand more explicit content and threaten to share the content he had already obtained.

2) Social Engineering – There are SO many stories of victims being reeled in by fake accounts. Extortion syndicates are actually run like well established businesses. A perpetrator will use fake and pre-recorded imagery, pretending to be someone attractive and engage in an online relationship. Once they have shown “their” nude photo or video, they will ask for one in return and then the extortion begins…

Read Tevan’s story to see how Sextortion lead to a 16 year old model student committing suicide:

3) Old passwords – Extortionists will use passwords that have previously been exposed in a breach and then send emails saying “we have hacked your account, this is your password and we have found sensitive images of you”. In fear due to you having a panic attack, users will do what the perpetrators ask of them.

So how do we deal with this? Well, the fundamental rule is pretty simple: don’t take photos or videos of yourself naked! Other cyber security rules apply as well such as:

  • Don’t click on links or attachments that you are not sure you can trust.
  • Make sure your camera is only enabled for the apps you use.
  • Keep a webcam cover on your laptop camera.
  • Don’t give in to bullies! You do not need to suffer silently and alone.
  • Report extortion.

It all comes down to protecting yourself online and this is just one piece of our digital lives that could go horribly wrong. Take a look at some of our other content where we go into more detail on how to protect yourself and your loved ones – before it’s too late.



Do Your Part. #BeCyberSMART.

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