Sextortion

 Around the world, we are seeing a big increase in Sextortion frauds.  As it sounds, this is a combination of sex and extortion.  As you’d imagine, there are occasions when people have photos of themselves unclothed which end up in the hands of sexual predators which use them to demand money.  These are often prosecuted.   But separately there is a worldwide organized crime effort to extort money, with thousands of victims around the globe.

Here is how it works.

A young guy (usually) is contacted on facebook or a dating site by a gorgeous young woman.   After some back and forth, such as email or exchanges or racy photos,  she suggests that they communicate by Skype or another webcam, and things lead to them watching each other performing sex acts.   But what the victim does not know is that the video of him is being recorded.  Thus immediately after the victims if contacted and told that he must pay money or the video will be posted on the internet and shared with all of his friends and family.  Sometimes the scammer claims that the girl was a minor, meaning that this might consist of child pornography, and threatens to contact the police unless the victim pays.

How much of this is there?

We believe the vast majority of victims of this fraud do not file complaints, and thus accurate information on the extent this fraud does not exist.  But both the US military and the UK’s National Crime Agency report that complaints about this fraud have doubled in the last year.  The NCIS itself has received over 300 complaints about this fraud, more than 120 this year alone.   Scamsurvivors.com, which helps internet fraud victims, has received over 15,000 complaints from victims around the world. The US military has come to recognize that its young service members are being targeted.  It seems very likely that the same holds true for other the military in other countries as well.

Here is a good article explaining what the US military is confronting.

What effect does this have on victims?

This fraud does not result only in the loss of money.  It can cause serious emotional distress.  The National Crime Agency reports four suicides in the UK in the last year.  This may pose special problems for victims from strictly religious cultures, such as Muslims.  Note that Romance scams sometimes use the same tactics if victims stop sending money.  See the separate article on romance scam and how they work.

How much do victims lose and how do they pay?

I’ve seen losses range from $500 to $10,000.  If the frauds have access to the victim’s facebook page they may be able to estimate what victims can afford.  Most of the time victims make payments through Western Union or MoneyGram, though a few have paid through paypal.

Where are these scammers and what is being done about this?

There are apparently large organized groups conducting this fraud from the Philippines, Morocco, and the Ivory Coast.  But the victim may not even know where the fraud is actually located.  The organized frauds are difficult to locate and prosecute, though law enforcement in the Philippines, working with Europol, took action in 2014.  They busted several locations where this fraud was running and arrested 58 people.  Here is the press conference announcing the busts.  And this is another news report.

What to do if caught up in one of these?

  •  DO NOT PAY — They will not post your information online. And paying will result in demands for more money.
  •  Victims are understandably reluctant to go to the police, but reporting these is important so that law enforcement can understand how big a problem this is. In addition, reporting may provide information that helps prevent other people from being defrauded.   The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center is also a good place to report these crimes.  Click here to report it.
  • For real help I recommend reaching out to scamsurvivors.com. This is a great organization, located in the UK, and it provides a step by step guide for those who have encountered this fraud.

 

Steve Baker

December 13, 2016

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