Sextortion, also known as sexual extortion, revolves around the manipulation and exploitation of individuals through the threat of exposing their sexual information, photos, or videos. The primary motives behind sextortion schemes are to extract money, exert control over victims’ behavior, or coerce them into providing additional explicit content.
Numerous forms of sextortion tactics exist:
Phishing emails: One prevalent technique involves phishing emails, which are fraudulent messages crafted to elicit a response from recipients, akin to a fish taking the bait. In the context of sextortion, criminals falsely claim to possess evidence of a person’s explicit internet search history or device activity, and they threaten to expose this information unless a payment is made. Often, these emails contain deceptive links or attachments that may harbor malicious software, enabling the criminals to gain access to personal devices or steal sensitive information. Such emails are typically disseminated en masse without targeting specific individuals.
Social media: Many sextortion cases commence with seemingly innocent flirtation on social media platforms or dating websites. Criminals adeptly create fake profiles that appear genuine, engaging victims in flirtatious conversations that swiftly turn sexual. Victims are then encouraged to undress, engage in sexual acts on camera, or share explicit images. Unbeknownst to victims, these images and videos are surreptitiously recorded and later exploited for blackmail. In order to exert greater pressure, criminals may have already infiltrated a victim’s social media contacts and threaten to share the explicit content with them unless their demands are met.
Hacked accounts: Individuals who have shared intimate photos or videos online, saved them on cloud platforms, or uploaded them on social media accounts are susceptible to having their content hacked. Exploiting this vulnerability, criminals can extort money from their victims by threatening to expose the compromised material.
Hacked devices: While advances in software security have made such incidents less frequent, sextortion can involve the installation of malware on victims’ devices. Once infected, criminals gain remote control over the devices’ cameras and microphones, giving them the ability to monitor victims without their knowledge or consent.
Non-consensual intimate image sharing: Also known as revenge porn, non-consensual intimate image sharing is a criminal act. It encompasses the unauthorized sharing of intimate images, threats to distribute such images, and recording images without consent (also referred to as voyeurism). Typically occurring within relationships, this form of sextortion aims to shame or exert control over the victim, often without demands for financial compensation. Perpetrators may share the images with the victim’s friends or family, using them as a direct threat against a current or former partner.
Child sexual abuse and exploitation: Sextortion also victimizes children and serves as a method of online grooming. Predators frequently approach children on social media platforms, often disguising themselves as individuals much younger than they actually are. Through praise and flattery, the abuser gains the child’s trust before soliciting private discussions or requesting explicit photos. Once the child divulges personal information or shares an image, the abuser uses this as leverage to coerce the child into further, more distressing actions, often accompanied by threats of severe consequences. The child, feeling isolated and helpless, is often unable to seek assistance.