Sextortion: A looming threat to online security and how to defend against it

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Sextortion: A looming threat to online security and how to defend against it
Representative imageImage credits- Canva
  • Sextortion is a type of cybercrime that involves blackmailing someone by threatening to expose sexually explicit images or videos of them.
  • Catfishing and WhatsApp video calls are some common sextortion techniques.
  • Below, read about how you can defend yourself against sextortion.
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Aakash Karuturi (name changed), a 27-year-old Hyderabad resident, is an IT professional who works with a bank. As he was surfing through a matrimonial website, a prospect became friendly soon and requested a video call.

Minutes into it, she started undressing – and a few minutes after the call ended, her video and his reaction to it was captured in a recording, and the subject threatened to send it to his friends and family on Facebook. His only option was to pay ₹5,000 to a UPI account.

Instead of being extorted, Karuturi walked into a police station close by, who tried to trace the number – which went to a jungle in Rajasthan. The number itself was unregistered. Moreover, the policeman also pointed out that the girl’s video was never live and had simply played out a recording.

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“You should keep all your social media profiles locked,” the policeman warned and sent him to the cyber crime cell in the city. There, Karuturi was shocked to see at least 10-15 young men who were cheated in the same modus operandi, and most of the victims had also paid exorbitant amounts to their blackmailers, who only came back for more.

This crime — called sextortion, is becoming more and more common as a lot of people now spend a considerable amount of time online. A lot of blackmailers bait their victims via several innovative means.

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The most common way is via calls where unknown users claim to have tracked the victim’s online activity, specifically visits to pornographic websites. The message also asserts that they have video evidence from webcams, or perhaps they have obtained obscene photos or videos.

What is Sextortion?


Sextortion is a form of blackmail that involves extorting victims by threatening to release sexually explicit images or videos of them.

Sextortion is a criminal act that involves blackmailing someone by threatening to expose sexually explicit images, videos, or personal information about them. Typically, the perpetrator will demand money or demand further sexual acts from the victim to prevent the release of the sexual content. They may also threaten to share the explicit material with the victim's family, friends, and colleagues or post it on pornographic websites.

Fear is the real bait


Sextorters are skilled at creating fear in their victims. They may use explicit images or screenshots of explicit conversations to intimidate the victim. Additionally, they may hunt the victim's social media accounts to find information about their friends and family. The goal is to make the victim believe that their reputation could be destroyed at any moment, even though the threat may not be genuine.

Sextorters often use fear as a tool to manipulate their victims, even if they don't actually have any explicit videos or images of them. However, in some cases, sextorters may obtain explicit content from their victims in various ways.

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  • One way is through sexting, where the perpetrator engages in sexually explicit conversations with the victim and persuades them to send explicit images or videos. The perpetrator may also send stolen images or videos to the victim first to gain their trust.
  • Another method involves taking control of the victim's webcam without their knowledge. The perpetrator can trick the victim into downloading a malware file.
  • Some perpetrators use threats to coerce the victim into performing sexual acts in front of their webcam or video call. This strategy is typically employed after initial blackmail attempts to obtain further material from the victim.

Beware of these common sextortion schemes


Below are a few common strategies that sextorters use to coerce their victims into complying with their demands. Recognising these tricks and characteristics can help you take preventative measures against sextortion.

Catfishing


Most sextortion cases are initiated by catfishing, another form of online attack. In this type of scam, the offender impersonates someone else, typically an attractive person like a gorgeous young woman, a wealthy businessman, or someone with similar interests to the victim, to appear relatable. Experienced catfishing sextorters are very cunning. They create fake social media profiles using stolen photos and well-crafted profile descriptions.

After creating fake profiles, the perpetrator usually approaches several users on various social media and dating platforms by sending friend requests, liking their profiles, or dropping them a message. Once the victim responds, the sextorter engages in conversation to build trust and obtain personal information. The final step involves coercing the victim into sending sexually explicit images that the offender will use in a sextortion scheme.

WhatsApp video call


Sextortion through fake WhatsApp video calls has emerged as a prevalent scam in India. In this scheme, the victim receives an unexpected video call from an unknown number, where a naked woman attempts to lure the victim into performing sexual acts. Later, the victim receives a call from the scammer who claims that a nude video of them is available on YouTube and demands a hefty amount to remove it. This has become a widespread sextortion case, preying on the fears and vulnerability of victims who may not be aware of the scam.

Facebook sextortion


Sextortion on Facebook is a prevalent catfishing scam, where perpetrators send friend requests or direct messages to strangers. The scammer engages the victim in conversation, gaining their trust and eventually requesting sexually explicit content. Once the victim has shared such material, the perpetrator will use it as leverage to extort money or further explicit material.
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Sextortion email campaigns


Sextorters may send scary emails to many people, trying to trick them. They might say they saw the person doing private things on their computer camera and threaten to show others if they don't pay them money. Or, they could threaten to tell everyone about adult websites the person visited. Anyone could be tricked by these emails.

Sextortion by your ex or someone you know


We have talked mostly about strangers using sextortion to scam people, but it's also possible for someone you know to do it. For example, an ex-partner with sexual pictures or videos of you could threaten to share them if you don't do what they want.

Usually, this kind of blackmail happens after a relationship ends, and it's called revenge porn. But in some cases, sextorters may use these images to pressure their partner to stay with them or provide more sexual images or acts.

How to prevent sextortion


Preventing sextortion is crucial, given the severe impact and distress it causes the victims. Here are some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of sextortion.
  • Share as little personal information about yourself as you can.
  • Utilise the privacy settings available on your social media platforms to safeguard your data. On Facebook, you can conceal specific profile details and your friend list. Similarly, review and adjust your privacy preferences on Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
  • Consider using a nickname when creating a profile on dating sites. This can make it challenging for individuals who engage in sextortion to locate your personal information and uncover details about your friends, family, or acquaintances.
  • It is advisable to always refrain from accepting friends or following requests from individuals whom you are not familiar with.
  • Exercise caution when dealing with links and file downloads sent by unknown individuals, and also be wary of unexpected attachments, even from people you know. It is best to only click on them with careful consideration.
  • It is recommended to cover your webcam when it is not in use.
  • File a complaint as soon as possible since it makes taking action against criminals much easier.

What to do if you have been sextorted



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Get in touch with someone close

Feeling ashamed of your current situation is understandable, but confiding in someone you trust is essential. Two heads are generally better than one when it comes to generating solutions and speaking about your issues can help you feel more composed and clear-headed, assisting you in determining your next course of action.

Cease all communication with the offender

The mere thought of not responding to the sextortionist's messages may cause you to panic. Your mind may race with anxious thoughts, such as ‘Will they contact my family?’ or ‘Can I still message my friends?’

It's also important to ask yourself if you will endure this situation indefinitely. The answer should always be no. You have the right to be liberated from this abuse. Continuing any form of communication only keeps you under the manipulative control of your abuser. Once you cut off all contact, you can begin taking steps toward seeking justice.

Don’t delete the evidence

Evidence is necessary to establish the exploitation's extent, duration, and timeline. Although you may feel compelled to erase any evidence of the incident from your computer to avoid humiliation, resisting that urge and keeping everything is essential. Once legal proceedings begin, you won't have to bear the burden of shame any longer.
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Inform the police

It's crucial to notify the police at the outset of the incident to ensure prompt legal action.

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