Sextortion Blackmail Crimes Grow to Worrying Heights

Sextortion, a recent but seriously damaging practice, where cyber crooks demand sexual favors from victims via threatening emails is said to have ruined many lives over the past few years.


Photo: Amir Kaljikovic / Shutterstock

The FBI has issued a warning to the public that cases of extortion are on the rise. The government agency has made an attempt to raise awareness about malware infected emails, instant messages, and harmful download links that could spell doom to one’s online privacy.

A recent sextortion case that made it to the headlines was when a 24 year old woman committed suicide by hanging herself in her rented apartment in Dover, New Hampshire. It is believed that the sextortionist had been traumatizing her for over two years. She died on July 10, leaving behind a four-year-old son.

Several weeks prior to her suicide, renowned prosecutor Mona Sedky from the Justice Department, New Hampshire had strongly aired her opinion stating that a case of sextortion is no different than someone trying to force the victim to shed her clothes off at gunpoint.

Sextortionists generally use psychological game play to make the victim submit to their demands. While some use unconventional hacking methods to barge into information available on personal computers, social media accounts, or even web cams; there are a few others who try to seduce people via video messaging services like Skype and ask for sexual acts in the video conversation.

It is believed that there have been at least 20 men who’ve been charged for multiple counts of sextortion in the year 2008 alone. Several hundred women have been exploited in various ways by those who’ve been charged guilty by the federal prosecutors in New Hampshire. But the most disturbing news is that most of the cases go unreported owing to fear and embarrassment.

The Curious Case of Twitter Purge Hashtag

Social media has had a drastic impact on the youth resorting to anti-social activities over the years. Revenge porn or what can be said as a sadistic display of sexual gratification, Sextortion, also had its share of influence on the youth with the release of the movie The Purge: Anarchy.

The hashtag #twitterpurge was trending at large and is said to have negatively influenced many people to delve into sextortion. The result—several young girls across America fell as victims to the cruel intentions of some sick men. The film’s premise that every crime is legit for one night of the year had a rather devastating impact on many innocent people.

The movie was released on July 18, and many people posted nudes of their ex-girlfriends and innocent college women, and sent targeted tweets that had demeaning content.

Revenge porn has become a major problem, and almost 20 percent of high school students have agreed that they had sent nude pictures to their friends.

Different Methods of Sextortion and How to Avoid

Lysa Meyers, an ESET security researcher, said that sextortionists carry two different approaches to target the victim. The most common way is to befriend the target and win her trust to provoke her to share private pictures or send nude videos via Skype or other visual mediums. These possessions are then used by the criminals to extort favors from those who are victimized.

Meyers also said that specially designed malware is used by criminals to target victims. This malware can turn on the webcams of the victim to access video footage. The victim might not know that the webcam is switched on, and the device can catch nude imagery. It is recommended to cover the webcams with a sticker or opaque tape when they are not in use.

In one bizarre incident related to sextortion, the FBI has reported that 25-year-old Brian Caputo had managed to obtain thousands of nude pictures of several young females over a span of eight years. He used social media sites to pin down on his targets and later went on to trade the same images with pornography sites that pay for such content.

He was rather aggressive and had exploited a minor female to reveal 660 sexually explicit images. Caputo was later tracked down by the local search agents who found out that his cell phone contained hundreds of nude images of young teens in the age group of 11- 15. He was also reported to have video footage of girls in sexually comprising positions.

Dating sites are yet another breeding ground for sextortion. Most often, online predators target victims via dating sites – where the scammer trades pictures with a victim, then threatens them with exposure. Even explicit messages can leave daters open to this form of attack.

The FBI has confirmed reports that women over the age of 40 are often at extreme risk to this kind of trickery. It is believed that these kinds of scams are one of the fastest growing online frauds with a 27% rise every year reported in the United Kingdom.

Safety experts opine that the best way to avoid incidents related to sextortion is to ensure parental advice and awareness camps at school levels. Such camps can throw light on the devastating impact of sharing private images and accessing unsafe sites which can ruin a teen’s future.