Tips for protecting against Sextortion

sextortion-caution-signIt seems like every few days there is a new story involving teenaged girls being tricked or blackmailed into sending compromising pictures of themselves to their tormenters. For the last few years, the FBI has been warning that this crime – “Sextortion” – is on the rise.

Ask most people about this term, and you will get a quizzical look. What is Sextortion, and how can you help prevent it? There are two types of behaviors that are used in this crime:

  • Trust-based
    With this tactic, the criminals take advantage of the relative anonymity of the Internet to trick victims into trusting them and revealing very personal details or sending revealing images. The criminals then use these as leverage to force their victims into sending more compromising pictures.
  • Malware-based
    This tactic involves targeting the victim with malware that stealthily turns on the victim’s webcam. In this case the victim herself unwittingly provides revealing images that the criminal can use for blackmail to get the victim to provide yet more compromising pictures.

Sextortion is a fairly new crime, so there are not yet statistics for exactly how prevalent it is. However, consider just one case of a 25 year-old male who was recently indicted by a federal grand jury for sexual exploitation of a minor and receipt and distribution of child pornography. According to court documents, for the past eight years this guy used Facebook, Kik Messenger, and Text Me!, as well as Yahoo! and Dropbox accounts “to communicate with dozens of minor females throughout the United States while posing as a minor female.” After establishing communication with the girls, some as young as 13, he would “threaten to reveal sexually explicit images of their friends unless the victim sent to him images of themselves nude or engaging in sexually explicit conduct.” One girl was scammed into uploading more than 660 sexually explicit images of herself to a Dropbox account controlled by this guy.

While this can happen to people of any age or gender – and everyone can and should protect him or herself – teen girls presently comprise the majority of victims. The perpetrators too can be of any age or gender, but the way you handle it should be the same.

Here are a few tips for how we can protect ourselves and help protect our loved ones:

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