Sextortion Casestudy One
It all began with an email, Oma was getting ready for school one morning when she came across an email from an unknown person requesting that she record a pornographic video of herself and attach it to the subsequent email.
Oma could have simply deleted the message and moved on with life but attached to the message were nude pictures of herself — her phone had been hacked it seemed. The sender threatened to make public the nude pictures if she doesn’t send the pornographic video within 48 hours. Oma immediately told her parents, who reported the case to the police.
Sextortion Casestudy Two
For Stephan Mailo, it was not a happy ending; he was only 16 years of age, had a good life with a bright future ahead of him until he met a supposed pretty lady online. They quickly built rapport and became friends, exchanging several messages every day until Stephan became comfortable enough to initiate an erotic conversation which subsequently led to Stephan sharing pornographic images of himself.
His supposed friend took advantage of the trust Stephan had reposed on him by threatening to send the images to his friends and family unless he sends him some money. Stephan obliged but unfortunately, that was not going to be the last as they were still in possession of his private pictures. The demand continued until he became overwhelmed.
Stephan took his own life, he committed suicide because he feared his private pictures might go public; he didn’t know what to do and he could no longer meet their demands. Investigations later discovered that the blackmailer was an organized crime group who creates an attractive fake profile online to lure potential victims.
Sextortion Casestudy three
Noel had exhausted his life savings trying to prevent his sexual videos and pictures from going public. The blackmailer had used a fake profile and made Noel fall in love. These are prime examples of sextortion.
Although the above stories define sextortion in a picturesque and illustrative manner, a more direct definition explains sextortion to mean the criminal act of blackmailing or coercing someone into doing sexual favors of any kind or sending money against their will by threatening to release private and explicit contents (including pictures and videos) of them to the public.
The Cambridge dictionary defines sextortion as the practice of forcing someone to do something, particularly to perform sexual acts, by threatening to publish naked pictures of them or sexual information about them.
A Growing Menace: How Sextortion impact Children
Sextortion has been on the rise in recent times, leaving victims with devastating experiences. And in worse cases, death. According to CyberTipline, sextortion reports have been on a steady rise since they began tracking the offense in 2013. In fact, in the first two years, there was a 90 percent increase.
The FBI received 13,000 more reports about sextortion in July 2018 than it had in the previous month. In the United Kingdom in 2017 more than 1,300 cases were registered, triple the reported cases in 2015. Unfortunately, the nature of the crime is such that victims find it extremely difficult to report to the appropriate authorities for fear of being blackmailed. For every reported case, there are a lot of unreported cases.
A report from the US department of justice asserts that sextortion is on the increase and remains the most serious threat to children. The same report reveals that sextortion cases appear to have more minor victims per perpetrator than any other child sexual abuse crime.
A study by Brookings, shows that 71 percent of sextortion victims are below the age of 18. CyberTipline further reveals that 78 percent of child victims involved female children, while 15 percent involved male children.
Adults are not left out
Based on reports, we can arguably conclude that sextortion is predominantly an offence against children. But that conclusion might be too hasty — this is because victims of sextortion seldom make reports and it could be worse with adult victims who may want to protect their families, friends, jobs and reputation. Besides, there have been an increasing report of adult victims in recent times.
What is Sextortion? – Strategies of Sextortion
Sextortion is a crime of the digital age (similar to Cyberbullying) — it is a contemporary crime made popular by the prevalence of the internet. Although there are various ways through which sextortion can occur, below are the general strategies criminals employ to target people.
Phishing occurs in divergent ways; although email phishing seems to be a more popular method.
- Email phishing: Usually perpetrators who employ this method, email to their target stating with proof that they have the target’s password or private photos. This follows with a demand coercing the target to either send money or other explicit content of themselves. The perpetrator ends his message by threatening to publish intimating photos or videos of the target if their demands are not met.
- Catfishing: This majorly happens through social media platforms. In certain cases, the criminals “catfish” their targets by claiming a fake online identity. With this false identity, the perpetrator establishes online relationships with victims that would have been less likely to connect with them if they had known the true identity of the perpetrator. For instance, an adult male may masquerade as a young girl in order to deceptively obtain nude pictures from another person.
Hackers may penetrate private device or network of a victim or try to gain unauthorised access into the victim’s account with the aim of finding explicit and sexual contents. Thereafter they attempt to blackmail or extort the person using the hacked contents as a leverage to coerce the person into meeting their demands.
In some cases, a malware will be downloaded into the victim’s computer, enabling the hacker to have control over certain functions on your computer remotely. Usually they could have access to your microphones and cameras, which means they can monitor you and record your activities remotely.
Sextortion in an abusive relationship usually occur when a party attempt to publicize sexually explicit images or videos of a victim obtained during an intimate relationship with the victim. This form of sextortion often occur following a dramatic end of an intimate relationship.
How to Protect Yourself Against Sextortion
With the evolving tactics employed by perpetrators, anybody can become a victim of sextortion.
Here are some tips to help prevent you from falling a victim of sextortion.
1. Always Investigate Properly
Online dating and relationships are becoming the norm in this era, people are becoming more receptive towards meeting and falling in love with strangers they meet on the internet. And while some have been successful at this, a few have had unpleasant experiences which includes sextortion. Although we won’t discourage building relationships online, we urge that you be very vigilant and exercise caution when attempting to start something with a stranger over the internet.
Do not get carried away by beautiful pictures and sweet words, try to run a background check on the person and be sure they are real. You can run an image search to be sure they are not impersonating someone else or if the pictures have been used by another profile or name in the past.
2. Do not open attached flies
Most phishing scams and hacks always begin with sending a malware attached to an email. Of course you won’t know it’s a malware because they are disguised as important files or documents. Opening it could imply that you have installed a keylogger which gives the hacker control over your device. If the message has threatening elements, then you should immediately report to the appropriate authorities.
3. Do not share intimate videos and explicit photos
Do not for whatsoever reason share explicit contents about you to anyone, especially if you do not completely trust the person. Sextortionists are extremely manipulative and that is why you should never get carried away by their antics. Do not allow your emotions to replace your reasoning.
4. Do not keep explicit contents of you on your device or online accounts
Hackers are always on the move trying to get privileged information they could use in blackmailing their victims. So as much as we do not want or wish to be hacked, we still cannot rule it out from happening.
5. Turn off cameras when not in use
It’s always best to take safety precautions, even if your privacy has not been compromised. Be sure to always turn off your webcam and microphones when not in use or better still cover them with a tape.
6. Have strong passwords
Having weak and easy to guess passwords is like leaving your house with your doors wide open. Always maintain strong and difficult-to-guess passwords for your accounts and devices. If you are scared of forgetting your passwords, you can make use of a password manager. Lastly do not share your passwords with anyone.
7. Supervise your child’s online activities and devices
Children are more vulnerable to the deceits of perpetrators and that is why they are the majority among reported cases. Do not leave them on their own, always monitor what they do and whom they communicate with online. Teaching your child(ren) about Netiquette may also help in preventing avoidable incidents while using the internet.
What do you do if you become a victim of sextortion?
- Do not panic: Becoming a victim of sextortion can be a frightening experience, and this fear usually causes most victims to make the wrong decision. So if you find yourself in this situation, try not to panic.
- As a child, talk to your parents: If you are still under your parents’ care, immediately talk to them without leaving out any detail.
- Talk to the police or other designated authority: Immediately report any attempt of sextortion to the police. You will be warned and threatened by the perpetrator not to report to anyone, do not be scared by this threat. You may be saving your life and that of others by reporting the incident.
Some countries have other bodies of authority, or agencies that help fight sextortion and other cyber crimes.
Sextortion is real and devastating. Not everybody will be as lucky as Oma, who survived the blackmail without losing much. Protect yourself by being cautious and protect others by spreading the awareness.