What Is Sextortion and What to Do if You Fall Prey to It
Few things generate as much fear and anxiety as ‘sextortion.’ Deriving its etymology from ‘sex’ and ‘extortion,’ this threat of having sensitive photos or videos leaked to the public unless you pay the extortionist is enough to unnerve even the most unflappable individual. The potential harm to one’s reputation, job prospects, standing in the community and family relationships raise the stakes even higher.
Unfortunately, sextortion is a growing problem and one that many are unprepared for. Nonetheless, there are a number of practical steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim. Even if you are currently being extorted, there are options that can mitigate the potential damage.
In this article, we’ll cover what sextortion is, how it happens, what steps can be taken to avoid it, and how to recover if you’ve already fallen prey to it.
- What is sextortion?
- Sextortion stats and trends
- How to protect yourself from sextortion
- What to do if you’ve already fallen victim
What is sextortion?
Sextortion involves someone gaining access to sensitive, private photos or videos, then threatening to publish them unless the person in the photos or videos pays a fee or performs certain actions. The price may be a one-time fee, or an ongoing payment.
In many instances, rather than requesting money, the extortionist may request more intimate photos or videos as the price of privacy. If a person gives in, they end up maintaining their privacy at the expense of giving the extortionist additional ammunition against them.
Sextortion stats and trends
Unfortunately, like many internet-based crimes, sextortion cases are rising dramatically. According to the FBI 2020 Internet Crime Report, extortion is in the top three internet crimes, with 76,741 cases, up from 43,101 cases in 2019.
While the FBI doesn’t break down exactly how many of those cases involved sextortion, the agency told CNBC that the majority of the extortion complaints it receives are part of sextortion campaigns.
To make matters worse, many of the victims are underage children. According to Thorn, 1 in 4 are under the age of 13, while 2 in 3 are girls who were threatened before the age of 16. Children, in particular, are more easily intimidated, and often don’t fully understand the potential threats, making them an especially vulnerable segment of the population.
Clearly, sextortion scams are a major problem and one that is growing by the day. Despite the rise in threats, there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself.
How to protect yourself from sextortion
As with most threats, prevention is the most successful strategy. There are a number of steps the FBI recommends:
- Never, under any circumstances, send compromising photos to someone. Even if the recipient seems safe, a misplaced phone or tablet can easily provide access to an unintended party.
- Turn off webcams when not in use. More sophisticated attackers sometimes try to hack a webcam in the hopes of catching a person in a compromising situation, taking photos or video and using them for sextortion.
- Never open attachments from unknown parties. A common tactic extortionists use is to send an attachment that is really a trojan horse. Once opened by the recipient, the attacker gains access to their computer and scours it for sensitive content.
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What to do if you’ve already fallen victim
If you have already fallen victim to a sextortion scheme, the most important thing to remember is never give in to the demands. No matter how frightening it may be, it will never get any better if you give the extortionists what they want.
In some cases, they may not even have anything to begin with. Some extortionists will pretend to have compromising content — or use generic content that doesn’t show a person’s face or identifying features — and try to bluff the victim, extorting them into providing actual photos or videos.
As a result, the safest thing a person can do is immediately contact the police. No matter how potentially embarrassing it may be, they are your best bet. Depending on the circumstances, the police may even involve the FBI.
Another important step is to contact your internet service provider or wireless carrier and let them know about the sextortion email or text message you have received. They can take steps to block the individual from contacting you further.
Although it may be tempting to try to negotiate with the extortionist yourself, it’s important to leave the matter to the police and let them do their jobs.
When it comes to sextortion, the old adage holds true: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
A few simple steps can go a long way toward protecting you from a sextortion scam. Even if you do fall victim, despite your best efforts, it’s not the end of the world. The authorities can provide the necessary assistance to mitigate any damage.
Pro-tip: As an added protection layer, install a security app like Clario. With Clario’s real-time monitoring and 24/7 human support, you’ll stay in control of your digital life — both public and private.