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Security & privacy

Sextortion emails are scary and effective – Victims out $8M so far this year

Scammers will do almost anything to get their hands on your personal information. Even though your social media accounts are of high value, photos of you in compromising situations can also yield a big reward for them. This is called sextortion and has been increasing at an alarming rate.

The FBI has dealt with more than 16,000 such extortion cases so far this year, which has cost victims $8 million. The largest target for sextortion falls into the 20-39 age group, making up more than half of all complaints.

Interestingly, the fewest complaints fall into the under 20 age group. It is unclear whether this age group is just more tech-savvy or if the potential for being underage is too great for scammers. Those over the age of 60 logged the third-most complaints. Keep reading for the nasty details.

Here’s the backstory

The FBI revealed that in most cases, contact between the victim and scammers happened mutually. This could typically happen through an online dating service or app or a mobile game, social media or online group.

Once familiarity has been established, the scammer will ask to move the conversation to a different platform. This could mean exchanging phone numbers to talk on WhatsApp or Telegram or communicating through email.

After some time, the scammer “instigates the exchange of sexually explicit material” and, according to the FBI, encourages the victim to send compromising images or videos. If the victim sends alluring photos, that is when the sextortion scam kicks into high gear.

The victim is blackmailed with the threat of public release of the material. To keep the photos or videos from being posted online, they’ll have to pay a fee. Normally in the form of cryptocurrency. Scammers will often know who the victim’s family and friends are and use that information as a bargaining chip.

How to prevent falling victim to sextortion

According to the FBI, there are several things that you can do to prevent falling victim to sextortion. The most important aspect to keep in mind is never sending compromising images of yourself to anyone. Here are some suggestions from the FBI:

  • Don’t participate – Never send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are or who they say they are.
  • Avoid suspicious links – Do not open attachments from people you do not know. Malicious links can infect your device with malware or be used to gain access to private data, photos and contacts, or control your web camera and microphone without your knowledge.
  • Never give scammers an opening – Turn off your electronic devices and web cameras when not in use.

If you do receive sextortion threats:

  • Don’t panic – Remember you are not alone as thousands have been victimized by this scam.
  • Report threats to authorities – Stop all interaction with the extortionist and do not be embarrassed or afraid to contact law enforcement.
  • Make it official – File a complaint with the FBI IC3 at

Keep reading

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