If an online acquaintance threatens to release explicit images of you unless you send them money, you are the victim of an emerging form of extortion known as “sextortion.” Philippine sextortion scams are on the rise, with many sextortionists targeting victims in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia.
If you are dealing with a Philippine sextortion scam, we recommend taking the following steps:
- Stay calm,
- Do not pay the ransom,
- Stop engaging with the sextortionist,
- Document all communications with the sextortionist,
- Secure all social media and dating profiles,
- Report the threats to the appropriate online platform,
- Report the threats to the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group or Philippines National Computer Emergency Response Team,
- Report the threats to the appropriate law enforcement agency in your country, and
- Reach out to an experienced online extortion or internet attorney.
At Minc Law, we have helped countless victims of sexual extortion prevent the release of explicit images and videos. We also help clients take control of the situation without drawing unwanted attention to the matter and work with law enforcement to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
In this article, we will discuss sextortion scams that originate in the Philippines and the Philippine agencies responsible for policing sextortion. We will also provide an in-depth look at the patterns sextortionists typically follow so you can better protect yourself against this burgeoning cyber-crime.
Effects of Sextortion in the Philippines
Anyone can be the target of a sextortion scam. A sextortionist’s main goal is to find a victim who will engage in the type of conduct that will provide leverage and, thereby, enable the extortionist to control the victim. As the sextortionist’s motivation is purely financial, they tend to look for victims with the apparent ability to pay a ransom.
Who Are the Most Common Targets of Sextortion in the Philippines?
According to the National Crime Agency, Philippine sextortion scams are generally perpetrated by criminal gangs or sextortion rings. In our experience, their “business” is volume-based. They attempt to reach out to as many individuals as possible in the hopes that a few will exchange intimate content, giving them the leverage they desire.
While sextortionists will engage with anyone, experience informs us that the overwhelming majority of individuals targeted are men, ranging in age from their early twenties through seventies.
Minors can also fall victim to sextortion scams, but we do not typically see them targeted when the goal is to secure money. Minors are more likely to be the target of another form of sextortion, where the goal is to obtain more intimate content from the victim, not money.
While sextortionists will pursue anyone willing to engage with them, an internet user will be a more attractive target if – based upon their dating profile, social media presence, or other publicly available information on the internet – they appear to:
- Have the ability to pay a ransom because they have a good job or appear well-established.
- Have families or long-term partners, so they have a greater incentive to hide their online exploits. If a target is on a website like Ashley Madison, the sextortionist has better leverage to request a monetary sum.
- Have few privacy protections online, particularly on their social media profiles, and openly share a lot of personal information that can be used by the sextortionist to solicit a ransom payment.
- Have limited in-person connections due to a recent relocation or other circumstances. Young service members in the military, who are often uprooted and sent to new locations, are attractive targets for this reason. Similarly, there was a large increase in sextortion cases during the past year, due to the number of individuals living in quarantine who were isolated and unable to connect with others.
Each of these qualities provides the extortionist with greater leverage against their targets (and increases the chances of their scam working). Savvy con artists will focus more intently on individuals who appear more likely to engage with them or have a greater incentive to keep their activities private from their family, or have a greater ability to pay.
How Prevalent Are Sextortion Scams in the Philippines?
It is difficult to determine the true prevalence of sextortion scams originating from the Philippines due to underreporting of the crime, lack of knowledge about the perpetrator’s location, and lack of accurate, global data about sextortion.
Sextortion Scams in the Philippines Are Underreported Due to Fear and Embarrassment
First, victims of sextortion – regardless of whether the perpetrator is located in the Philippines or elsewhere – may be reluctant to report sextortion because they are embarrassed by the situation or fear backlash or legal ramifications if they do make a report.
Lack of Channels to Report Sextortion
Because internet sextortion is a relatively new crime and not frequently discussed, many victims do not know where to report the behavior.
Difficulty Identifying the Perpetrator’s Location
Another issue with reporting sextortion scams is the fact that the victim may have no idea where the sextortionist is located. Sextortionists often create fake profiles and spoof telephone numbers to make it appear as though they are located near their victim.
Unless the perpetrator provides information reflecting their location – e.g. an address to send money through Western Union – the victim is unlikely to know what country or even what continent the perpetrator is operating out of.
Lack of Global Data
Finally, there is a lack of accurate global data about the crime of sextortion. Many countries do not gather or publicly disclose data about the frequency of sextortion crimes so there is truly no way to know many people across the globe have been targeted by sextortionists around the world.
While law enforcement agencies in the Philippines, especially those focusing on cybercrime, do collect data on sextortion, this data only reflects the incidences of sextortion that are reported to the agencies. Based upon our experience, we believe that this data likely does not begin to show the full scope of the problem,
Outside of the Philippines, agencies like the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center provide a broad overview of extortion but do not distinguish based upon the location of the perpetrator. In other words, it is hard to know exactly how many perpetrators are based in the Philippines or other countries.
Most Common Countries Where Sextortion Scams Are Based
Notwithstanding the above, in our experience representing victims of sextortion, we have found that the Philippines is the most common location from which most sextortion originates.
West Africa follows closely behind as the second most common location. The Caribbean and Eastern Europe are other common locations for sextortionists. Sextortion victims, on the other hand, are often located in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
What Are the Most Common Forms of Sextortion in the Philippines?
Sextortion scams that originate in the Philippines typically follow the same pattern as scams that occur elsewhere. The most common forms of sextortion in the Philippines start on social media and dating websites and feature webcam blackmail. Although, some Philippine sextortionists resort to email phishing and bitcoin extortion.
Social media sextortion and dating website sextortion follow a similar pattern. Virtually all sextortionists employ the following strategies.
The Sextortionist Creates a Profile For an Attractive Stranger
The sextortionist will create a profile featuring attractive images to encourage strangers to accept their friend requests. Occasionally, perpetrators will list local information to lure specific targets (making it seem as if they live relatively close to their target) to make their profile appear more legitimate.
Then, they will initiate friend requests and conversations with their victims. More often than not, they quickly steer the conversation toward a virtual sexual encounter.
The Sextortionist Suggests Moving the Conversation to Another Platform
In our experience, once a victim engages with the sextortionist, they will ask the victim to switch to another method of communication like Facetime, Google Messenger, or Skype.
While the sextortion may start on Facebook, Twitter, or a popular dating site, the perpetrator almost always takes the conversation to additional platforms. Usually, they encourage the victim to switch to another platform by promising nude photos or videos.
The Sextortionist Convinces the Victim to Exchange Intimate Photos or Videos
From there, the perpetrator will attempt to seduce their target, promising an exchange of sexual images as long as they receive sexual photos or videos in return.
The Sextortionist Threatens to Expose the Sensitive Images or Videos
Once a victim shares sensitive materials, the conversation quickly takes a turn for the worse. The extortionist may share a screenshot of the victim’s social media account or page showing the names of their friends and family members. They will threaten to send them the sensitive images unless the victim pays them a ransom.
The blackmailer may also say they are underage and threaten to report the target to authorities if they do not send money. Other crafty perpetrators try to appeal to the victim’s emotions – claiming they have a sick relative or child that needs the money.
Perpetrators will try virtually everything to solicit money out of their victims.
If the Victim Pays, the Sextortionist Will Likely Request More Money
While paying the ransom may seem enticing to victims who want the extortion to stop – perpetrators rarely stop after receiving money. I our experience, once they know they have found a victim who will give in to their demands, they will continue asking for more and more money.
We see many variations to this pattern. Just because your encounter does not follow the exact course of events listed above does not mean you are not facing a sextortionist. Anyone can fall victim to sextortion and con artists continue to find creative ways to extort money from their victims.
For further reading on how social media sextortion scams typically play out, make sure to check out our article by attorney Dan Powell explaining how to combat ‘Facebook sextortion’.
How to Protect Yourself From Sextortion in the Philippines
You should take proactive steps to protect yourself from the threat of sextortion scams – whether they originate in the Philippines or elsewhere. You can arm yourself with knowledge about risky online behaviors and “red flags” that indicate you might be speaking with a potential extortionist.
- Be selective when connecting with strangers online,
- Interact with new online connections cautiously,
- Limit personal information you share online,
- Avoid sharing intimate content with someone you just met,
- Avoid engaging with strangers online when you are vulnerable,
- Maximize privacy settings on social media,
- Avoid invitations to move the conversation to a different platform,
- Review and follow safety/privacy tips on dating apps,
- Be careful what you share on dating apps.
What Steps Should You Take to Protect Yourself From Sextortion in the Philippines?
Each of the following steps can be used to protect yourself from online scams and shield yourself from sextortion attempts.
Be Selective When Connecting With Strangers Online
Be wary of accepting friend requests or direct messages from strangers or others with whom you do not share any mutual friends.
Many predators lurk on the internet, and not just extortionists. Before engaging with a stranger in any capacity, take a closer look at their profile. If something looks “off” do not engage with the other person.
You can also run reverse image searches to see if the person is who they claim to be.
Interact With New Online Connections Cautiously
Even if a person passes your initial inspection and you decide to communicate with them, proceed with caution. Remember there is a possibility they may not be the person they say they are – and assume anything you share with them may be shared with others.
To understand the most common red flags to look for in another’s profile or online communications, check out our article by paralegal Dayra Lomba explaining how to report sextortion.
Limit the Personal Information You Share Online
The more information you share about yourself, the more leverage you give to potential con artists. Sextortionists use your personal information against you, like threatening to contact your family, friends, and employer with your compromising images and media.
Avoid Sharing Intimate Content With Someone You Just Met
Do not give in to requests to share intimate conversations and content with someone you have just met. Operate under the assumption that your recent connection may not be who they claim to be and could be preying upon your trust.
Avoid Engaging With Strangers Online When You Are Vulnerable
If you are emotionally vulnerable because you are just getting over a recent breakup or your inhibitions are lowered due to alcohol, avoid using dating apps and conversing with others on social media. The internet can be dangerous, and you need to use your best judgment when interacting on dating apps and social media.
Maximize Privacy Settings on Social Media
Review your social media privacy settings so that you know exactly what appears on your profile, who can tag you, or view your posts.
All social media platforms enable users to customize their privacy settings (like setting a profile to “private”) so that you can only be found or contacted by those on your friends list.
Avoid Invitations to Move the Conversation to a Different Platform
If you have just made a connection with someone or started talking, avoid invitations to move the conversation to FaceTime, Skype, or your private cell phone. This is one common pattern employed by sextortionists to gain trust from their victims quickly.
Review & Follow Safety & Privacy Tips on Dating Apps
Dating apps like Tinder, Grindr, Hinge, Ashley Madison, and Adam4Adam all offer safety and privacy tips for their users. Review their tips and follow them to make your app experience safer (and more positive).
For example, Tinder recommends all users keep conversations to the Tinder platform when first getting to know someone and warns against sharing personal information (ex. Social security number, home or work address, details about your daily routine) with persons you do not know.
Be Careful What You Share on Dating Apps
Just as you should limit the amount of personal information you reveal on social media, you should be wary of oversharing on dating apps as well.
Be careful which social media accounts you link on your dating profiles, especially if you want your dating profile to remain discreet. You may even consider using a pseudonym for added privacy.
Sextortion Laws in the Philippines: What Legal Protections Are in Place to Protect Against Sextortion in the Philippines?
Due to the prevalence of cybercrime in the Philippines, including sextortion, the government has enacted several laws that ensure criminals are held accountable.
Act No. 3815 (The Revised Penal Code)
As reflected in a 2015 Advisory Opinion from the Philippine Department of Cybercrime, sextortion “is defined and penalized under paragraph 1 of Article 282 of Act 3815 or The Revised Penal Code, as amended.” That provision defines the crime of “grave threats”, which renders sextortion a criminal offense even if the victim did not ultimately pay the ransom.
The crime of “grave threats” requires establishing:
- The offender threatening another with the infliction of a wrong on his person, honor or property,
- Such wrong amounted to a crime, and
- The offender made the threat demanding money or imposing any other condition.
Additionally, if the offender succeeds in extorting the victim and is paid with the amount demanded, they have committed “Robbery by Intimidation” and can be penalized under Articles 293 and paragraph 5 of Article 294 of the Revised Penal Code.
The essential elements are:
- There is personal property belonging to another,
- There is an unlawful taking of that property,
- The taking is with intent to gain, and
- That there is violence against or intimidation of persons.
Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012
The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 subjects sextortionists perpetrating their crimes through cyberspace to harsher penalties than they would face for the same acts committed without the use of the internet.
Section 6 of the law imposes a penalty one degree higher than that imposed by the Revised Penal Code if the crime is committed by, through and with the use of information and communications technology. Thus, penalties for “grave threats” and “robbery by intimidation” will be increased by one degree if they are committed through the internet – e.g. internet sextortion.
The higher penalties for cybercrime offenses have been justified on the basis that the offender can more easily evade identification and reach more victims or greater harm with the use of the internet.
This Act also addresses other cybercrimes like hacking, cybersquatting, spam, and child pornography.
Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009
Sextortion is also punishable under the Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009 as “Photo or Video Voyeurism”. This act prohibits the publication of photos or videos of sexual acts online, even if the content was taken with the other party’s consent.
Individuals convicted of breaking this law face 3-7 years imprisonment and fines of at least 100,000 pesos (roughly USD 2,000).
How to Respond to Sextortion Scams Based in the Philippines
As stressful as sextortion can be, there are things a victim can do in response. Remember, the perpetrator is breaking the law and you have rights – do not let them bully you into paying a ransom.
How Should You Respond to Sextortion in the Philippines?
Regardless of whether the extortionist is located in the Philippines or anywhere else in the world, we recommend responding to the sextortion attack by doing the following:
Sextortion is stressful and often frightening. However, it is important that you try and remain calm. When you panic, it is difficult to think rationally and take proactive steps to handle the situation.
Additionally, if the sextortionist senses you are in panic mode, it will only give them more power over you.
Do Not Give in to Their Demands for Payment
It may be tempting to believe the sextortionist’s promise that they will delete your sensitive content and stop their harassing behavior if you pay the amount of money demanded. Do not believe them.
Once you establish you are willing to pay, the extortionist will become even more focused on you. Their demands will continue until you put your foot down.
Stop Engaging With the Perpetrator
Cease all communication with the scammer. Once you have preserved evidence of the extortion, block the sextortionist on every platform and through every email or phone number they have used to contact you.
Document All Communications With the Sextortionist
Before you block the sextortionist, document all communications you shared by taking screenshots using the screenshot function on your computer or phone, or a paid preservation tool like Page Vault or Visualping.
You will need this evidence to stop the extortion, press charges, or sue the perpetrator.
Secure All Social Media & Dating Profiles
Maximize privacy settings on all of your social media accounts and dating platforms (and disable those you do not use). Even if you do not use an account, the information available through your profile can provide the sextortionist with information about you and your contacts that can be used to continue the sextortion.
Report the Blackmail & Threats to the Appropriate Online Platform
Reach Out to an Experienced Online Extortion or Internet Attorney
Consult with an online sextortion attorney and report the crime to your local law enforcement agency. Law enforcement authorities can direct you to the appropriate agencies for reporting the crime and determine if they have jurisdiction to press criminal charges.
Online sextortion attorneys can help you take control of the situation, remove any sensitive content that has been published, and help you bolster and restore your online image if the sextortion has harmed your reputation.
Do not forget to read attorney Dorrian Horsey’s article explaining ‘how to deal with blackmail’ for further tips to prevent being extorted and blackmailed online!
Which Agencies in the Philippines Are Responsible For Dealing With Sextortion?
As internet crimes increased in the Philippines, the government created two law enforcement agencies specifically designed to police cyber-crime:
- The Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group
- The Philippines National Computer Emergency Response Team.
The Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) is primarily responsible for policing sextortion. Since its creation, the PNP-ACG has brought numerous sextortionists to justice through their independent efforts and working with international agencies like INTERPOL.
The Philippines National Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-PH) also monitors internet sextortion, although they focus more on incidents that involve victims and perpetrators located in the Philippines.
Where Should You Report Sextortion Scams Based in the Philippines?
If you are not located in the Philippines, the best place to report sextortion is a law enforcement agency in your country. The top agencies to report sextortion scams in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Europe include:
- FBI Internet Crimes Complaint Center (United States),
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (United States),
- Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (Canada),
- National Crime Agency (United Kingdom),
- Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (United Kingdom),
- eSafety Commissioner (Australia),
- Europol (European Countries).
In addition to reporting sextortion to the relevant agency in your country, you can also report sextortion to the Philippine government if the perpetrator resides in the Philippines.
For victims located outside of the Philippines, reports can be made by e-mail to the cybercrime department. However, to submit a valid complaint, you will need to provide an affidavit regarding the facts of the incident that is duly sworn before a Philippine consular official.
You should also report the scam to the website or app where the extortion happened (like Facebook, Snapchat, or Twitter).
Do Sextortionists in the Philippines Follow Through on Their Threats to Release Embarrassing Images & Videos?
Most of the time sextortionists do not follow through with their threats when their victim refuses to engage. However, it is impossible to know if you are dealing with someone who will follow through or not.
If you are being targeted by a sextortionist you may feel vulnerable and powerless, but you actually have more power than you realize. An extortionist loses their leverage over you once they share the compromising material, so many stop at threats alone (to increase their chances of securing payment). This is why it is never a good idea to pay the ransom because it only empowers the perpetrator and shows them their threats are working.
Read more about the chances of a sextortionist releasing your intimate images or videos in our comprehensive post by attorney Andrew Stebbins ‘Do Sextortionists Follow Through?’.
How Attorneys Can Help if You Are a Victim of Sextortion
Many internet attorneys and law firms that can help with sextortion provide relevant guidance on their websites for dealing with sextortion. The best attorneys to contact are those that have experience handling sextortion cases because they can advise you on costs, risks, and best practices from their years of experience.
An attorney who assists with online reputation management may also help you navigate strategies for dealing with sextortion – like preventing your risk of falling victim to online sextortion, monitoring the internet for future attacks, and bolstering your online image.
What Are the Benefits of Hiring an Attorney if You Are the Victim of Sextortion?
If you are the victim of sextortion, regardless of whether the sextortionist is located in the Philippines or anywhere else in the world, there are numerous benefits to hiring an attorney to help you through this crisis:
An Attorney Can Send a Strong Message to the Sextortionist
Hiring an attorney shows the extortionist that you take their threats seriously and you will not give in to their demands. It also means they can face consequences for their actions.
An Attorney Can Provide Objective Advice
Sextortionists are most successful when they can induce their victims to act based upon fear.
An experienced internet attorney experienced in these matters can analyze the situation and determine how best to respond without allowing emotion or fear to get in the way. When appropriate, they can engage directly with the extortionists to put a stop to their criminal activities.
An Attorney Can Help Protect Your Privacy & Manage Your Reputation
An attorney can advise you as to the best course of action for maintaining your privacy and reputation during and after an extortion attempt and monitor the internet for future attacks.
An Attorney Can Help Remove Damaging Content From the Internet
If any harmful content has already been posted online, an attorney can help you report and remove it through the proper channels.
An Attorney Can Utilize Investigative Tools to Identify Anonymous Sextortionists
Through the legal process, an attorney may be able to identify and unmask an anonymous extortionist, regardless of whether they are located in the United States or abroad.
An Attorney Can Provide Support & Reassurance
A knowledgeable attorney can provide support and reassurance in the midst of this harrowing experience. Many victims feel embarrassed and alone when they are being extorted. They may not have someone in their life with whom they feel comfortable sharing their predicament.
Having an attorney on your side who understands your fears and the importance of discretion, can help limit the extent to which the sextortion attack takes over your life.
Where Can You Hire An Attorney to Help You Deal With Sextortion?
If you do not know where the sextortionist is located, the most important consideration when selecting an attorney is their experience. An experienced attorney can form a plan of action to deal with the extortionist and help maintain your privacy regardless of where the extortionist is from.
An attorney experienced with sextortion matters will also understand domestic and international laws prohibiting sextortion, as well as the appropriate law enforcement agencies to contact. The best places to find a lawyer that can assist with sextortion are:
- Attorney databases like Avvo, Martindale-Hubbell, and Lawyers.com,
- Your local bar association,
- A Google search for a “sextortion attorney” or “extortion attorney,” and
- Referrals from family, friends, and co-workers.
What Do You Need to File a Sextortion Complaint?
The information and evidence you will need to file a civil complaint for sextortion will depend on where you and your extortionist are located.
At minimum, you will need to know the identity of your extortionist or have enough information (like a username or profile URL) to request a subpoena. It is best to speak with an experienced attorney before filing a complaint for sextortion.
Work With Experienced Sextortion Attorneys to Combat Philippine Sextortion Scams
If you are a victim of Philippine sextortion scams, the attorneys at Minc Law can help. We have extensive experience putting an end to the harassment of sextortionists and preventing the release of sensitive content. And if the worst occurs, we know how to deal with extortionists who follow through with their threats.
“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 19, 2021
If you are the victim of sextortion or find sensitive images of you online, contact the experienced attorneys at Minc Law. Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation by calling us at (216) 373-7706 or completing our contact form.