A sextortionist is a scammer who threatens to release explicit images or videos of you unless you meet their (often monetary) demands. Sextortion, also known as sexual extortion, is a form of sexual exploitation that affects many internet users—but how often are a sextortionist’s threats actually carried out?
Some sextortionists follow through on their threats, but the vast majority do not.
The main reason they do not follow through is that they will lose their leverage if they post your information. Also, many sextortionists are aware that they will draw the attention of the authorities in their country if they do take action.
As experienced internet attorneys, Minc Law has helped stop the unwanted harassment and sextortion of hundreds of our clients and prevent the release of highly sensitive (and embarrassing) media. And, when necessary, we have helped remove damaging content if it is released during an online sextortion scheme.
In the following article, we provide a definition of a sextortionist and an explanation of how they prey on their victims. Then, we address the likelihood that a sextortionist will act—and why it is that they usually do not follow through on their threats.
What is a Sextortionist & What Do Sextortionists Do?
A sextortionist is a person who threatens to publish explicit material if you do not give them money, sexual favors, or more explicit images. The material they threaten to publish might include:
- Sexual images,
- Videos, or
- Suggestive chat messages involving you.
Depending on the situation, sextortion can fall under the category of either online extortion or internet blackmail (online blackmail). Extortionists use threats, such as sending intimate photos or videos to friends, family, or employers, or publishing them to YouTube, to coerce payment or services from a victim. Blackmailers threaten to reveal damaging (not always sexual) information or media about the victim if the victim does not meet their demands.
Minc Law Sextortion Tip: The act of sextortion goes beyond the distribution of intimate images without consent, and is accompanied by a threat and demand for money, goods, or sexual favors from the victim.
Common Example of Sextortion to Look Out For
Most commonly, sextortionists use a methods to hook their victims that involve:
- Connecting with their victim on social media and dating sites,
- Luring the victim into sexual behavior, and
- Using recordings of the incident to extort and blackmail the victim.
The most common online sextortion scam that we see looks something like this…
1. The “Too Good to Be True” Fake Profile
First, the sextortionist will create a fake profile on a social media or dating site. These sites include Tinder, Bumble, Google Hangouts, Instagram, and Snapchat. Sites like these let anonymous sextortion scammers find or connect with unsuspecting victims who have public profiles.
2. A Random Friend Request
The sextortionist will then send friend requests to users on that social media or dating site and attempt to start a chat or conversation.
3. The Chat Quickly Turns Sexual
Once a chat begins, the sextortionist will attempt to turn the conversation into a sexual one. The sextortionist will use sexual language in an attempt to hook the person with whom they are chatting. Some sextortionists will mention that they are underage. This trick is an attempt to lure the individual into believing they are chatting with a minor.
4. The Suggestion to Move Platforms & Video Call
Next, the scammer will try to move the interaction to a platform that will enable video chat—and access to more personal information. These platforms include Skype, Google Hangouts, and Facebook. If the victim is using an anonymous account, or an account that does not feature their full real name, the sextortionist will ask to move the chat to a platform with more details about the victim.
5. The Sextortionist Manipulates the Target Into Engaging in Intimate Behavior
Once a video chat begins, the sextortionist will try to manipulate the victim into engaging in sexual behavior. Some sextortionists will use recordings from a pornographic website to make it look like the victim is chatting with a real person in a similar situation. The sextortionist’s goal is to obtain embarrassing (or damaging) content from the victim.
6. Sexual Exploitation & The Threat
The scammer will record and preserve the entire chat and every video. They will also visit any other public social media profile the victim has and record the victim’s list of friends. Some sextortionists will conduct a public record search on the victim to find their address, family members, and employer. Once the sextortionist has enough information—and embarrassing content—they will stop chatting. Then, they will begin threatening to “release” or “post” the compromising content unless the victim meets their demands.
Minc Law Sextortion Tip: Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the increased usage of video conferencing and online conversation spaces has led to an increase in sextortion attempts. For more information about how to protect yourself during this new era of digital risk, see our article ‘How to Avoid Sextortion Scams During COVID-19’.
How Sextortionists Work & Select Their Victims
Sextortion is almost always a form of catfishing. Catfishing is done by creating a false online identity to enter into a fictitious relationship with a victim. This act can have several motives, including revenge, harassment, and extortion.
A sextortionist will often engage in catfishing by pretending to be a fictitious person who is interested in sexual conversation. They use that fake persona to lure the victim into a false sense of security. Then, they ask the victim to send them sexual content, such as images, videos, and explicit chat messages.
Most sextortionists live overseas. They will ask you to send them money—usually through Western Union, Money Gram, CashApp, or other money forwarding services—to the country where they are located.
At Minc Law, we most often find that sextortionists are operating out of the following countries:
- The Philippines,
- Côte d’Ivoire (The Ivory Coast),
- Ukraine, and
Many sextortionists in those countries use internet cafes or other public internet services. Since they usually live in a different country than their victims, they often do not believe they will ever face consequences for their actions.
How Do Sextortionists Select Their Victims?
Sextortionists are not selective in finding their victims, because sextortion is a numbers game.
These broad sextortion schemes work based on volume, meaning that sextortionists will reach out to as many profiles as they can. The scammers simply hope that a small percentage of profile owners will engage with them and fall into the sextortion trap.
Sextortionists attack underage victims as well as adults, and all genders and sexual orientations. While the primary demographics affected by sextortion attempts are underage youths and males between 40 and 70 years old, anyone who is online and willing to chat with strangers is at potential risk for being targeted by a sextortionist.
What Are the Signs That You Are Being Targeted by a Sextortionist?
When you are in a chat with a new connection online, it is important to watch for key indicators that you are being targeted for sextortion. Ask yourself the following questions:
Does Their Profile Seem Suspicious?
When a stranger requests to connect with you on a social media or dating platform, check their profile for red flags. Do you have any mutual connections, or do they appear to have connected with you out of the blue? Do they have very little previous activity? Does their profile picture look like a stock photo? Any of these things could be a sign that this person’s profile might not have been made in good faith.
Is the Conversation Escalating Quickly?
If you begin chatting with an internet stranger and the conversation quickly turns sexual in nature, this escalation may be a red flag.
Are They Asking to Switch Platforms?
If you are on a service that does not accommodate video chat, be wary if your conversation partner pushes for the chat to move to a different platform.
Are They Asking For Personal Information?
Be suspicious of any requests for personal identifying information. If they ask for pictures of your driver’s license or anything else that could be used to learn more about your identity, this could be a red flag.
Are They Asking For Pictures or Video Content From You?
If your conversation partner asks for a sexual picture that includes your face, this is another potential red flag. They are probably planning on recording and preserving it for future use.
To protect yourself against sextortion and the release of intimate images and videos online, we recommend checking out our article explaining the dangers of sexting.
Minc Law Social Media Safety Tip: To further protect yourself from sextortion attempts on social media, take the following precautions: (1) Never send compromising images of yourself to anyone—no matter how close you are to them; (2) Do not open attachments from people you do not know; (3) Turn off your electronic devices and web cameras when not in use; and (4) Be wary of new online connections who send you unsolicited sexual images that they claim are pictures of themselves. Sextortionists often use this tactic to guide the conversation in a sexual direction and lower their victim’s guard.
How Often Do Sextortionists Follow Through & What Would Follow-Through Look Like?
If you are the victim of a sextortion scam, you may—understandably—feel that you have no power. It is easy to feel a sense of impending doom, where one wrong move can send catastrophe careening through your life.
But you have more power in the situation than it may appear. The vast majority of sextortionists never follow through on their threats.
It is true that some determined sextortionists see their threat through to the end. However, many more will never actually publish the sensitive content they are holding over your head.
Why would sextortionists not follow through on their threats?
Some sextortionists know that doing so would draw the attention of the police and local authorities in their country. With the rapid rise of sex-related internet crimes, INTERPOL and various state law enforcement agencies have increased their focus on dismantling sextortion rings and dedicated substantial additional resources to tracking down perpetrators. Secondly (and perhaps more commonly), they are hesitant to act because they will lose their leverage if they post your information.
After all, once you have been “outed,” you no longer have any motivation to pay the sextortionist or blackmailer. The sextortionist is likely unwilling to lose the power they have over you by publishing the sensitive content in question. That is why it is never a good idea to pay the sextortionist’s demands. If you give them what they are asking for, you will show them that their threats work on you. This reaction will only embolden their behavior.
A sextortionist will never stop threatening or demanding money from you if you pay them.
What the Release of Sexual & Intimate Media (“The Follow Through”) Would Look Like
If a sextortionist is determined enough to follow through on their threats, the most common methods are listed below. The type of action they choose generally depends on the information they have about you. Their choice will also hinge on the type of content they have preserved from your interaction(s).
1. Messaging Your Social Media Contacts
Some sextortionists will scour your social media profiles to find your closest or most active contacts. For example, your spouse and other close family members may be listed on your social media profiles—and they have active accounts of their own. The sextortionist will threaten to send a private message to these contacts with the embarrassing content.
Understandably, sextortion victims suffer great anxiety at the possibility of being “outed” to their loved ones in this way. Many victims would be willing to pay a high price to avoid such embarrassment or reputational damage.
2. Posting the Embarrassing Content Online
If the sextortionist cannot find a close contact from your friend lists, they may threaten to post the chat and/or video to YouTube instead. They will threaten to make the content publicly visible and include your name in the video title or description.
Other sextortionists will threaten to post your videos to pornographic websites. They may also post screenshots from those videos, and they will include your name or contact information in the titles.
Any of these actions will cause the video to appear in your Google search results. The public nature of these videos could harm your personal and professional life.
3. Going to the Authorities
Depending on the chat, some sextortionists will accuse you of engaging in child pornography or solicitation. They may claim that they are underage. If this were true, it would mean that any sexual content you participated in during your conversation would amount to a crime.
They will threaten to report your supposed crime to the police or relevant authorities. The sextortionist will tell you that criminal charges will be brought against you unless you do what they say.
Of course, the sextortionist will almost never go to the authorities, since they do not want to bring attention to their own illegal scamming attempts.
Minc Law Internet Safety Tip: If you are tempted to engage with a stranger on social media or a video chat, consider creating a Google number and a disposable email address to use when interacting with strangers online. Use this throwaway contact information so that if the stranger is a scammer, their ability to trace your real identity are limited. This technique is an effective way to protect your online security without limiting your ability to connect with others online.
What Online Tools Should You Monitor if You Are Concerned About Sextortion?
If you have been sextorted, or someone has sensitive media or information about you and may use it against you in the future, there are several online tools you can use to protect yourself.
Free Tools and Strategies to Protect Yourself from Sextortion
First, make it more difficult for malicious actors to attack you by using free methods that are at your disposal, such as:
- Updating your passwords (for your email, social media, online accounts, personal devices, etc.) every three to six months at a minimum.
- Setting your social media accounts to private and increase the security settings to the highest extent possible.
- Using Google Alerts to monitor yourself or your brand. You can choose your search term (such as your name or the name of your business). Anytime your search term appears in Google search results based on your tracking guidelines, you will receive an alert. Google alerts can help you monitor your online presence, but this free tool is not as comprehensive as paid digital risk protection.
Digital Risk Protection Services Are Ideal For Sextortion Monitoring & Protection
Once you have taken the basic precautions, you may want to take extra steps to shore up your online profile. For instance, you can pay for monitoring tools or digital risk protection services. Digital risk protection is a holistic reputation monitoring approach. It uses multiple tools and strategies to track and identify threats against your digital assets.
Digital risk protection experts develop a strategy to prevent attacks, protect what is most important to you, and handle any real threats that require remediation or litigation. If you are facing a sextortion scheme or attempt, you do not need to combat it alone.
As sextortion, online blackmail, and other cyber threats continue to increase, we at Minc Law knew it was a top priority to help individuals (and businesses) stay on top of their digital footprint with ease. So we developed a comprehensive digital risk protection service and solution to scan, identify, and remediate digital threats on the internet.
If you are ready to take the next step to protect your online reputation, brand, and digital assets, you can schedule a demo here. You can also sign up for a 45-day, money-back guaranteed trial or schedule an initial digital risk protection consultation with one of our paralegals.
In our comprehensive blog posts titled ‘How to Deal with Sextortion on the Internet’ and ‘How to Report Sextortion‘ we have provided a list of actions you can take (and actions to avoid) if you are the victim of a sextortionist. We encourage you to read it and make use of the tips provided as they relate to your case.
Minc Law Can Help Stop Sextortion & Explore Legal Options
At Minc Law, we have extensive experience in dealing with these illegal schemes. We have helped hundreds of sextortion victims stop the harassment that they are facing and prevent the release of embarassing and sensitive media—and we know how to deal with the ramifications when sextortionists do choose to follow through on their threats.
We are also well-versed in working with law enforcement and local police forces in the areas where most sextortionists live. Whether we are dealing with the Philippine National Police, the DGSN in Morocco, or the PLCC in Ivory Coast, we are prepared to go to these jurisdictions to assist in the investigation into these sextortionists.
★★★★★ “If you find yourself in an unfortunate sexploitation situation, I highly recommend Minc Laws services. Andrew worked my case and did an excellent job. As soon as he took my case he made me feel at ease and laid out the plan of action. There is no better feeling than knowing someone has your back when something like this occurs.” CJ, Jan 21, 2021
If you are a victim of a sextortion scam or need to remove sensitive images or videos from the internet, contact the experienced attorneys of Minc Law today. Schedule your free, initial no-obligation consultation by calling us at (216) 373-7706 or by filling out our contact form online.