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Security & privacy

Warning: FBI says sextortion scammers are using this scary new tactic

Of all the scams floating around on the web, sextortion scams are some of the scariest to deal with. When a hacker claims to have intimate photos of you and threatens to post them online, it feels like a total violation of your rights. Thankfully, for the most part, these scams are nothing but bluster.

Until recently, scammers would only claim that they had recordings of their victims without offering proof to back it up. But as times change, so do hackers and their tactics. Tap or click here to see a malware that actually does what sextortion scammers claim to do.

And now, two new types of sextortion scams are starting to spread — and the FBI is putting everyone on alert. Sextortion scammers are now targeting teens for intimate photos and making threats to spread them if their demands aren’t met. Others are sending photos to victims before switching to pretending to be family members of the person in the photo. Here’s what we know.

Sextortion scams are back with a vengeance

It’s already difficult for teens online, but a predatory new form of sextortion targeting teens is bad enough to make the FBI concerned. The Bureau has put out a notice warning about a sextortion incident in Arizona that appears to be spreading throughout the state and beyond — and if teens aren’t careful, their privacy may be in grave danger.

Here’s how this particular scam works: A sextortion predator will attempt to gain the trust of a young person through chat apps and online forums. Once trust is established, they’ll push for intimate photos. If a photo is sent by the teen, the predator will then pressure them for more pictures. If the teen refuses at this point, the predator will threaten to publically expose the photos.

RELATED: Don’t let your older loved ones fall for this scam

Unlike previous sextortion scams, this one appears less concerned with financial gain and more concerned with exploiting minors. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the images making their way to hacker forums or the Dark Web to be bought and sold as pornography. This has not been confirmed by the FBI, however.

But this isn’t the only new form of sextortion scam happening in America right now. In fact, the other new tactic is just as much of a dating scam as sextortion.

For this method, scammers use dating sites to lure victims in with explicit conversations and intimate photos. Once contact is established and information is exchanged, the scammer switches gears and pretends to be the parent of the person their victim was talking to. They’ll tell the victim they received images of a minor and will threaten lawsuits or exposure unless paid.

Both of these scams are highly dangerous to victims compared to previous sextortion scams. Unlike usual methods, these threats involve the direct participation of victims — and can actually lead to real sexual or financial exploitation. As long as you and your kids remember these simple points, it’s easy to stay safe:

  • Be highly picky about what you share online. Personal information and passwords should never be shared, and social media accounts should be set to private if possible.
  • Block or ignore messages from strangers. Be wary of talking to anyone online for the first time, and use anonymity if participating in discussion groups or forums.
  • Remember that videos and photos can easily be faked by scammers. People online aren’t always who they say they are.
  • If someone you or your kids meet in a game or app asks to start chatting in another program, say no. This is a common tactic used to isolate victims.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you or your kids get messages or requests that don’t seem right, block the profile and report it.

How can I protect myself or my kids from these scams?

Let’s not beat around the bush, these scammers aren’t just scammers anymore — they’re predators. These new tactics are highly aggressive and disturbing, but there are ways you and your kids can protect yourselves if you happen to fall victim to this kind of scam.

  • If you or someone you know was a sextortion victim, contact the FBI Phoenix Field Office at (623)466-1999 or report the crime online at tips.fbi.gov.
  • Delete the account you were talking to the scammer on and block them. Change your social media accounts to private if you happened to share them. Tap or click here to see how to change your settings from public to private on social media.
  • If you shared any passwords, change them immediately.
  • Do not pay any ransoms to scammers. If you do, they’re more than likely to ask for more.

Since these scams are targeting teens and young people, it’s important to discuss proper online safety with them before its too late. If you’re looking for a good place to start, try our online contract for kids and families.

Tap or click here to see Kim Komando’s online safety contract for families.

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