How to Spot & Avoid Sextortion Scams Featured Image

How to Spot & Avoid Sextortion Scams

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    Has a stranger you met on the internet threatened to release intimate images of you if you do not pay them money or meet some other demand? If so, you are the victim of an attempted sextortion scam.

    Avoiding sextortion scams can be difficult in today’s perilous online environment, but it is possible. We recommend the following steps to spot and avoid sextortion scams on the internet:

    1. Be wary of new online connections—especially those who send you intimate images right away;
    2. Do not engage with strangers online when in a vulnerable or highly emotional state;
    3. Set all of your social media profiles to private;
    4. Avoid invitations to move conversations to different platforms or devices;
    5. Do not open attachments from people you do not know;
    6. Turn off electronic devices and web cameras when not in use; and
    7. Avoid sending intimate images or media of yourself to anyone.

    At Minc Law, we have helped hundreds of clients prevent the release of their intimate images and media while avoiding drawing unwanted attention to their sextortion matter. We know what it takes to help individuals secure their reputation against potential sextortionists, remove harmful content from the internet (should the sextortionist release the intimate content), and resolve sextortion attacks quickly with minimal damage.

    In this article, we explain what sextortion is and how it differs from other forms of extortion. Then, we provide practical tips for protecting yourself against sextortion, how to respond to a sextortionist, and how to spot sextortion red flags. We then explain how to report sextortion attempts—and why you need an experienced internet attorney on your side.

    How Sextortion Differs From Other Forms of Extortion

    Sextortion is the crime of threatening to publish explicit information or material about a victim to others if they do not give in to certain demands by the perpetrator. While it is common for sextortionists to demand money, they may also ask for more sensitive images or even sexual favors.

    Below, we examine sextortion in greater detail and how it differs from other forms of extortion.

    What is Sextortion & What Are Some Examples of Sextortion?

    Sextortion is also commonly referred to as:

    If you are being targeted by a sextortionist, their primary goal is to intimidate you into paying them in exchange for not publishing your intimate videos, photos, or media. They want to use your fear—especially that your colleagues, friends, and family members will see your sensitive images—against you.

    Commonly, sextortion takes place on social media sites and dating websites or apps. Sextortion also frequently occurs over sexting and SMS text messages, or even through email. We examine these examples in greater detail below.

    How Does Sextortion Differ From Other Forms of Extortion?

    All sextortion is a form of extortion—but not all extortion is sextortion.

    All forms of extortion involve using threats to motivate the victim to take an action. The difference is that other extortion schemes, while still potentially embarrassing for the victim, involve non-sexual information or media.

    An extortionist is only committing sextortion if they make threats to reveal intimate images or media if their demands are not met.

    Sextortion is a burgeoning issue in the United States and across the globe. According to a 2021 Internet Crime Report by the FBI, the IC3 received more than 18,000 sextortion-related complaints in 2021, with victims losing over 13.6 million USD.

    How Does Sextortion Differ From Other Forms of Sexual Violence?

    Sextortion occurs entirely online; unlike other forms of sexual violence and harassment, it is a non-physical form of coercion.

    However, the effects of sextortion are still very real. The embarrassment and shame over potential fallout can lead sextortion victims to suffer from anxiety, depression, and even thoughts of self-harm.

    Another unique factor is that with sextortion, the perpetrator is typically on the other side of the world. At Minc Law, we have found that most sextortion scammers operate out of the following countries:

    • The Philippines,
    • Morocco,
    • Côte d’Ivoire (The Ivory Coast),
    • Ukraine, and
    • Mexico.

    Sextortionists typically do not have any physical connection or geographic similarity to the victim. The sextortion victim usually does not even know the perpetrator’s true identity.

    This anonymity is an aggravating factor and cause of ongoing stress for sextortion victims. Not knowing who or where the perpetrator is can lead to uncertainty and additional trauma.

    For further reading on sextortion scams across the world, please check out this comprehensive resource explaining what to do if you are the target of a Philippine sextortion scam.

    Is Sextortion Serious?

    Even though it is not a physical act, sextortion is very much a serious crime.

    Sextortion can also have devastating effects if not handled swiftly and effectively. Victims of sextortion can experience both mental and physical effects. Further, victims can feel compelled to take rash and drastic actions such as draining their bank accounts to try to pay off the sextortionist, which will only make matters worse.

    How to Protect Yourself Against Sextortion

    Once you have been sextorted, it is fairly obvious—but identifying sextortion before it happens can take a little more diligence. Sextortion scams can be fairly easy to spot if you know what to look for, and there are many steps you can take to protect yourself against sextortion.

    How Do You Prevent Attempts at Extortion From Ever Happening to You?

    Protecting yourself against sextortion starts with understanding how to spot common sextortion scams.

    Most sextortionists use the same process to snare their victims. They usually start by reaching out to a stranger online via one of these platforms:

    • Social media,
    • Dating apps,
    • SMS texting, or
    • Email.

    The sextortionist often begins the conversation with friendly chit-chat. They eventually invite you to move to a more “private” platform like Facebook Messenger, Hangouts, WhatsApp, or Skype. Then, the sextortionist turns the conversation in a sexually suggestive direction—and they may even send you what appear to be intimate photos or videos of themselves (but these images are usually fake or pre-recorded).

    In return, the sextortionist invites you to send intimate images of your own. Once you do, the conversation turns threatening. The sextortionist will then demand payment through familiar channels like Western-Union, bitcoin, Venmo, PayPal, or even gift cards.

    Once you learn the red flags associated with potential sextortion scams, be sure to follow the practical tips below to protect your privacy even in less dangerous situations.

    Internet Defamation lawyer Checklist

    Do Not Engage With Strangers Online When in a Vulnerable or Emotional State

    The internet can be a dangerous place, and you need your wits about yourself when interacting with strangers.

    Avoid getting into conversations with strangers online when you are not in your best frame of mind, such as when you have had a few drinks or when you are feeling emotionally vulnerable due to a recent breakup.

    Be Cautious of New Online Connections Who Send You Intimate Images

    Sextortionists often send unsolicited sexual images in the hopes that you will let your guard down. Before you are lulled into “returning the favor,” remember that photos and videos can easily be faked or sourced from elsewhere online.

    Set All of Your Social Media Accounts to Private

    Even when not considering the risk of sextortion, it is a good rule of thumb to keep your social accounts as private as possible. Review your social media privacy settings to manage exactly what appears on your profile, who can view your posts, and who can tag you.

    Also, try to limit the personal information you share online to begin with. Remember that the more you share about your life, the more material scammers can use to trick you.

    Avoid Invitations to Move Conversation to Different Platforms, Apps, or Devices

    It can be exciting to meet and connect with a new friend on social media or dating platforms.

    But if your brand-new connection asks to move to another platform like WhatsApp, FaceTime, or your private cell phone, that should be a red flag. They may be intending to record your interactions for sextortion purposes.

    Do Not Open Attachments From People You Do Not Know

    This is another good rule of thumb for protecting yourself against more than sextortion attempts. Attachments can contain viruses and malware, which scammers can use to gather information about you or even hack your webcam.

    Turn Off Your Electronic Devices & Web Cameras When Not in Use

    Hackers can gain access to your devices and record you when you are not aware of it happening.

    To be safe, make it a habit to turn off your devices and webcams when you are not using them. You may even want to cover your webcams with tape or a privacy shutter when not in use.

    Never Send Intimate Images or Videos of Yourself to Anyone

    Of course, the best way to protect yourself against sextortion is to never send compromising images or videos of yourself online or via text message—no matter how close you are to them.

    Minc Law Privacy Tip: It is not practical for everyone to completely avoid sending intimate images online. In that case, a good compromise would be to use a pseudonym when you are on dating sites. Concealing your identity when interacting with new people—at least at first—can help protect your privacy against potential scammers.

    What Do You Do Once You Find Yourself on the Receiving End of Sextortion?

    If you are the target of sextortion, we recommend following the steps below to deal with it quickly and effectively.

    Stay Calm & Do Not Panic

    Being harassed and extorted online can be a terrifying experience. You may feel trapped and that the only solution is to meet the extortionist’s demands.

    But your first step should be to pause, take a deep breath, and consider your situation with a cooler head.

    Engaging with a sextortionist often only makes matters worse. If you pay them, they will often come back with another demand for more money.

    Sextortionists operate in the hope that you will panic and give them what they want immediately. But if you do not engage with the perpetrator, it often removes the power dynamic at play.

    Document & Preserve All Evidence

    If you have been the target of a sextortion attempt, take action immediately to preserve all evidence.

    Confronting your extortionist effectively would be easiest if you knew their real name and contact information. But since most sextortionists know how to mask their identifying data, you should focus on gathering as much information as possible, including:

    • Profile usernames and account information;
    • Email addresses;
    • Phone numbers or addresses;
    • Any information related to the platform or website where you are being extorted online;
    • Screenshots of all communications including online posts, comments, direct messages, email, and text messages with the date and time they were sent; and
    • Receipts of any payments you have made to the sextortionists.

    Maximize All Privacy Settings on Your Online Profiles

    Next, make sure all of your online accounts are turned to the most private settings possible. If you have any public profiles you do not use, disable them right away. Refrain from accepting any friend requests from strangers on all of your accounts.

    Do Not Give Into Their Demands

    It is understandable to be horrified at the idea of your friends, family, and coworkers seeing the compromising images held by the sextortionist. But regardless, resist the urge to pay the ransom or try to mitigate the damage right away.

    Do not assume that the scammer will follow through on their threats. Acting too hastily may make matters worse, giving the sextortionist more power over you.

    Video: What Are the Chances a Sextortionist Releases My Intimate Images & Videos?

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    Watch

    Unless you are willing to cooperate with a sextortionist for the foreseeable future, it is unwise to start down the road of giving them what they want. The earlier you seek legal help to confront the scammer, the better.

    For further reading on the likelihood of sextortionists releasing your intimate images and media, make sure to read our comprehensive guide answering ‘Do sextortionists follow through?’

    Report the Sextortionist’s Account

    If you are being extorted online, flag the perpetrator’s account to the requisite platform or app.

    While reporting accounts is not always successful, you should do everything you can to ensure the scammer is deplatformed and unable to harass other victims.

    Minc Law Social Media Tip: Facebook is one of the most widely used social media sites in the world. Clearly, Facebook is very popular and its reach is pervasive—but the platform’s ubiquity also makes it a fertile breeding ground for webcam sextortion scams.” To learn how to report a sextortion on Facebook, check out our article: What to Do If You Are the Victim of Facebook Sextortion.

    Set Up a Google Alert

    If you are being extorted or harassed online, it is a good idea to keep an eye on your digital footprint as a whole. You should be on the lookout for subsequent attacks, mentions, and content.

    The easiest way to monitor your online reputation is to set up a free Google Alerts account that will send you an alert anytime your name (or the keyword of your choice) is mentioned anywhere online.

    Digital risk protection (DRP) services are another extensive way to track your online reputation. DRP services use a combination of methods and tools to evaluate, monitor, and protect against your digital risk.

    Reach Out to An Experienced Online Extortion Attorney

    Online extortion, blackmail, and sextortion can be very complex and nuanced legal areas. These crimes often fall under state jurisdictions—and each state has its respective statutes, which often do not include sextortion specifically.

    That is why it is best to reach out to an experienced internet attorney if you are a victim of a sextortion attempt.

    A lawyer with experience dealing with sextortion cases can save you a great deal of time and worry by effectively removing defamatory content and having it de-indexed from Google search results. They know how to work with relevant law enforcement agencies to hold scammers liable for their illegal behavior—without drawing more attention to the matter than necessary.

    To learn how much an internet extortion lawyer costs, read our comprehensive article: ‘How Much Does an Online Extortion Lawyer Cost?

    What Can You Do if You Find Someone You Know is the Victim of a Sextortion Scam?

    If someone close to you has fallen prey to a sextortionist, they should first remember not to panic—and not to meet the scammer’s demands.

    Point them instead to the proper channels where they can report sextortion. There are several agencies, at the national and local levels, that handle cybercrime and related issues, including:

    • Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3),
    • Your local Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Field Office,
    • INTERPOL,
    • National Center For Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC),
    • Your local law enforcement, and
    • Better Business Bureau (BBB).

    You can also point them to these resources that provide helpful information on dealing with sextortion scams:

    • Attorney General’s Cyber Exploitation Task Force,
    • Thinkuknow,
    • Samaritans,
    • Cyber Civil Rights Initiative,
    • Crash Override,
    • HeartMob,
    • Without My Consent (WMC),
    • PAPYRUS, and
    • Get Safe Online.

    Common Sextortion Scam Examples You Should Keep an Eye Out For

    As mentioned above, the most common sextortion scenario involves reaching out to the victim on social media or dating sites, then luring them into sexual behavior. The sextortionist then uses recordings of that behavior to extort the victim into paying money or meeting some other demand.

    Below, we take a closer look at specific examples of sextortion on various platforms, along with how to spot a sextortion scam.

    What Are Some Common Examples of Sextortion & How Can You Identify Early Warning Signs?

    The most common sextortion scenarios take place on the following platforms:

    • Social media,
    • Dating websites, and
    • Email.

    Social Media Sextortion

    Since social media is ubiquitous in our everyday lives, it is not surprising that scammers flock to these platforms in search of victims. It also does not help that most of these sites incorporate webcam chatting, private messages, and the ability to send and receive photos.

    Sextortionists on social media appear friendly and trustworthy as they engage the victim in conversation. Once they have built up the victim’s trust, they may ask for explicit images—or they may ask to move to a video chat.

    Once on the chat, they may use pre-recorded videos of “themselves” performing sexual acts to trick victims into reciprocating in kind on video. Then, the scammer threatens to release a recording of the interaction if the victim does not pay a ransom.

    Any social platform that allows users to make new connections and chat privately is a potential breeding ground for scammers, including:

    • Social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat;
    • Video conferencing tools like Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom; and
    • Video games with an online multiplayer component like Fortnite, Minecraft, and World of Warcraft.

    Minc Law Internet Tip: If you receive a friend request from a profile that you do not recognize, do not blindly trust that they are who they say they are. Start by conducting a reverse image search of their profile picture. This tactic is an easy way to find out if the photo is present on other websites. The picture might be a stock photo, for instance, or it may belong to a completely different person’s profile. If anything seems “fishy” about the reverse image search results, take that as a red flag and do not accept the friend request.

    Dating Website Sextortion

    While dating websites and apps are not the most popular choice for scammers, you should still exercise caution when using them.

    Simply owning a profile on platforms like OkCupid, Grindr, Tinder, and Hinge can open you up to exploitation and emotional manipulation. By its nature, the search for a romantic partner can create a level of emotional vulnerability that scammers might be eager to exploit.

    Much like social media sextortion, dating profile sextortion starts with an attractive—and fake—profile. The scammer messages their victim, engages in trust-building conversation, and eventually asks for explicit or compromising images and information.

    After getting that material, the scammer will find the victim’s social media profiles and handles. They then threaten to release the compromising material to the victim’s friends and family unless the victim pays a ransom.

    Another common dating site sextortion scheme is to manipulate the victim into sending intimate images or videos, then revealing that the recipient is “under 18.” The perpetrator then threatens to report the victim to the FBI unless they meet the scammer’s demands.

    Email Phishing & Bitcoin Scam Sextortion

    Another common sextortion scheme is to use a large-scale data breach to find email addresses and passwords. The perpetrator then uses a template to send a phishing email to thousands of victims at once.

    The message usually informs the victim that their computer, webcam, browsing history, and personal files have all been hacked. And if the victim does not want explicit material to be shared with the public, they must pay the perpetrator.

    Because popular digital payment platforms like Venmo and PayPal have become more cautious about processing these transactions, extortionists must become creative. That is why they often demand alternative payment methods that are harder to trace, like bitcoin, some other form of cryptocurrency, or even gift cards.

    If you have received an email like the one described above, do not panic. These “hackers” often do not have any more information beyond your email address—but they are playing a numbers game. They hope that some percentage of the thousands of email recipients will panic and send payment right away.

    The best response to a sextortion phishing scam is to ignore the message, delete it, and change your email password.

    Should I Be Worried About Sextortion Emails?

    Receiving an email from a malicious sender claiming to have private, compromising information about you is always unsettling. But keep in mind that sextortion phishing emails (scam emails) are, unfortunately, quite common.

    If the sextortionist truly has sensitive media or information about you, they will show it to you. These scammers are counting on you to panic and react quickly—so avoid that urge. Instead, if you are worried about an email you have received, reach out to an experienced internet attorney for advice.

    What Are Some Simple Tips You Can Follow to Prevent Yourself From Becoming a Victim of Sextortion?

    Anyone with an online presence is a potential victim of sextortion scams and attacks. That is why you should employ some common-sense safety tips when being active online, such as:

    • Be wary of friend requests of people you do not know, especially if you have no mutual friends in common;
    • Set all of your social accounts to private;
    • Cover your webcams and turn off electronic devices when not in use;
    • Use a pseudonym on dating sites until you have a better connection with the person you are speaking to; and
    • Be very cautious about sharing private images online.

    What Should You Do if You Find Yourself on a Website That Uses Materials Collected Via Sextortion?

    It can be a nasty shock, to say the least, to discover that a nude photo you texted to an ex is now publicly available on a revenge porn website. If you find photos or video of you on the internet that was posted without your consent, you can take action by:

    • Reporting the content to the hosting platform and/or search engines,
    • Sending a DMCA takedown notice, and
    • Reaching out to an experienced internet attorney.

    Minc Law Content Removal Tip: The distribution of intimate images without consent is known as revenge porn or nonconsensual porn. The term “revenge porn” implies that the poster was motivated by revenge, but that is not always the case. Many perpetrators of revenge porn do not know their victims at all.

    How to Report Potential Sextortion Scams

    When you are the subject of a sextortion attempt, it can be difficult to know where to turn. Below, we provide actionable resources for reporting sextortion scams, as well as tips for reaching out to legal help.

    Who Do You Contact if You Find Out About a Potential Sextortion Scam?

    If you live in the United States, you have the option to report a sextortion attempt to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which handles sextortion reports as well as other cyber-related crimes. U.S.-based victims who are minors (and their guardians) can also reach out to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

    If you are in the United Kingdom, you can also reach out to the National Crime Agency and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

    And Canadian sextortion victims can reach out to the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, while those living in Australia can make an image-based report to the eSafety Commissioner.

    No matter where you live, you also have the option to report the sextortion attempt to your local law enforcement authorities. You can also report the sextortionist to the website or platform where the attempts took place. For example:

    • Report a tweet or direct message on Twitter by navigating to the three dots in the top right corner of the message and clicking “Report tweet.” Fill in the requested information to make your report.
    • Report a profile on Facebook by clicking the three dots in the upper corner of the post and clicking “Report profile.” You can then choose what element of the profile to report, such as a “fake profile,” “fake name,” or that the user is “pretending to be someone else.”
    • Report a sextortion scam on Snapchat by pressing and holding the message, then clicking “Report snap.”

    You Can Also Report Sextortion to Email Providers

    If the sextortionist contacted you via email, we recommend flagging the extortion emails to the originating service provider. To find out which service provider to report to, check the domain name of the sender’s email address (“Gmail.com,” “Outlook.com,” etc.).

    If the email domain is not from a recognizable provider like Gmail, Outlook, ProtonMail, iCloud Mail, AOL, or Yahoo! Mail, try searching the domain in ICANN Lookup. This site should give you a good idea of which provider hosts the email address.

    What Should You Immediately Do if You Find Yourself on the Receiving End of a Sextortion Threat?

    If you are the target of a sextortion attempt, remember not to panic. Do not engage with the perpetrator, and do not meet their demands.

    Instead, reach out to an experienced internet attorney right away.

    You can also follow the steps listed above to collect evidence of the scammer’s activity and report their profile to the website where the interaction(s) took place.

    And since sextortion is a crime, you also have the option to make a report to your local or federal law enforcement agencies. But keep in mind that most sextortion attempts occur across international borders—so most law enforcement agencies are not equipped to pursue the perpetrator to their source. That is why it is critical to partner with an attorney experienced in internet matters to help you resolve the situation quickly and effectively.

    How Can Minc Law Help You Navigate Sextortion Scams & Put an End to Attacks?

    If you are the victim of a sextortion attempt or scam, you may feel scared and unsure of what to do next. Legal solutions to the situation may be limited, but legal advice is indispensable.

    An experienced internet lawyer can help you take control of the situation by providing objective advice on how to proceed, communicating with the sextortionist on your behalf, and preventing the release of intimate images or media.

    An experienced sextortion attorney can also take concrete actions to monitor the internet for subsequent attacks (such as the release of intimate content), avoid drawing unwanted attention to the matter, and get any harmful content removed (if the perpetrator follows through on their threats).

    Some sextortion situations are more sophisticated and complex in nature. For instance, if you have met the perpetrator in real life, you may want an attorney’s advice before making a report to law enforcement—especially if money changed hands. An experienced extortion attorney can also put the sextortionist on notice that you are taking their threats seriously and they can face consequences for their actions.

    How do I find a trustworthy law firm to handle my internet sextortion case?

    Start by researching their website. Ask questions like:

    • Do they specialize in reputation management and digital risk protection? There are many branches of law, so you need a lawyer with experience in your specific type of case.
    • Do they have content on their site that gives guidance on dealing with online sextortion? This content should indicate their level of expertise and knowledge.
    • Do they have years of personal experience handling sextortion cases? The right attorney will be able to advise you on the costs, risks, and best practices involved in your case.

    At Minc Law, we know what it takes to put an end to sextortion attacks and online harassment and prevent the release of sensitive online content. And, if the intimate content is released, we know how to deal with sextortionists who do follow through with their threats.

    ★★★★★
    “I was unfortunately a victim of an online sextortion scam. After a few weeks of torture, I found minc law online. I called them directly and scheduled a consultation meeting with attorney Daniel A Powell. Working with Daniel was smooth as he was very responsive and supportive as well. Daniel and the rest of the minc law team took my complaints seriously and understood my emotional state. They were very compassionate when talking with me and understood how to work with people. Daniel and his team dealt with my situation swiftly and resolved my problems within the week. I highly recommend minc law and Daniel to anyone who unfortunately got caught in a situation like mine.”

    John

    Jan 1, 2022

    If you are the target of a sextortion scam or want to remove intimate images or videos from the internet, contact us by calling (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat Representative, or filling out our contact form online. If you are a fit for Minc Law’s sextortion services, we offer paid attorney consultations with an experienced sextortion attorney for a cost of $400.

    Contact Minc Law

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