Sextortion is a growing cybercrime that affects millions of people. Learn what it is, how to recognize and protect yourself from it.
- What is sextortion?
- Types of sextortion
- How does sextortion work?
- The tactics and targets of sextortion scammers
- Steps to take if you are a victim of sextortion
- Consequences of sextortion
- Preventing sextortion: how to stay safe online and offline?
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What is sextortion?
Sextortion is a form of online harassment and blackmail that involves the use of non-consensual sexual content to extort money or other favors from victims.
It usually involves someone sending unsolicited sexual images or videos to another person, then demanding money in exchange for not releasing them publicly.
Sextortion is a serious crime and can have serious consequences, including financial loss, emotional trauma, and even jail time.
CRO Cyber Rights Organization has the mission to eradicate this kind of online harassment.
It can also involve the threat of physical harm or other forms of coercion.
According to the FBI and Partners Issue National Public Safety Alert, in 2022, over 3,000 minor victims were targeted in the past year across the United States.
This cybercrime often goes unreported because victims fear the public humiliation of their personal information being spread, and that they’ll be blamed for their own victimization.
Definition of sextortion
La eSafety Commissioner, l’agenzia governativa australiana, definisce la sexual extortion, detta anche sextortion, come:
“A form of blackmail where someone threatens to share intimate images of you unless you give in to their demands.”
Sextortion typically involves the perpetrator threatening to post embarrassing or sensitive photos and videos of the victim online.
Usually it happens through social media platforms, if they don’t comply with the demands of the perpetrator.
Types of sextortion
Sextortion can take several forms, including:
- Online sextortion.
Online sextortion involves threats of releasing intimate photos or videos online, on social media platforms, websites or group chat.
- Physical sextortion.
It involves threats of physical harm if the victim does not comply with the demands.
- Financial sextortion.
As explained by the ICE, this is the difference between traditional and financial sextortion:
“Traditional sextortion occurs when a victim is threatened or blackmailed into providing more sexual imagery; the predator threatens to share their nude or sexual images with the public. Financial sextortion occurs when a predator demands money or gift cards in exchange for keeping their sexual images private.”
- Relationship sextortion.
Relationship sextortion occurs when someone threatens to release intimate images or videos unless the victim agrees to enter into a romantic relationship with them.
Sextortion is often confused with revenge porn, but sextortion is related to the issue of blackmail and extortion.
Regarding revenge porn, however, the publication or dissemination of intimate and private content has already occurred.
In other words, revenge porn is a form of digital sexual assault and sextortion is a form of online manipulation.
Sextortion is designed to coerce victims into performing sexual acts in private, and then distributing the resulting material online.
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How does sextortion work?
Sextortion is a form of extortion where perpetrators threaten to publish intimate images or videos of their victims unless they are paid money or given other favors.
It is an increasingly common cybercrime that has been on the rise in recent years.
This type of online violence usually follows a pattern:
- The offender lures the victim online or in person;
- Through a messaging chat or on the same social platforms, he asks to send explicit sexual content;
- The victim, trusting his or her privacy, sends such photos, videos, or audio;
- At this point, the criminal threatens to publish the content unless the victim sends more material or pays a ransom.
The perpetrators may also threaten to share personal information such as passwords and bank accounts if the victim doesn’t pay up.
This crime is very often committed on gaming platforms, instant messaging platforms and apps, and social platforms.
As reported by Cybertip.ca, the canadian national tip line for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children, 79% of sextortion incidents occurred on Instagram or Snapchat.
As the website explains:
“Amounts of money demanded range from as little as $9 (the amount a youth had in their bank account) to $7,500.”
Sextortion can be a traumatic experience for victims and can have long-lasting psychological effects.
The act of sextortion itself can be considered comparable to sexual assault, with perpetrators using coercion, fear and deception in order to obtain sexual gratification from victims.
Victims may feel exposed and humiliated after the perpetrator has revealed intimate photos or videos of them without their consent.
The tactics and targets of sextortion scammers
Sextortion scammers usually target vulnerable individuals who are more likely to be embarrassed by the situation and pay the ransom.
According to Europol‘s report, female child victims are being blackmailed more significantly for sexually explicit material (84%) compared to their male counterparts (53%).
Instead, male children are more so targeted for financial gain (32% compared to 2% for female child victims).
The tactics used by sextortion scammers vary, but they typically involve sending emails or messages containing threats, such as “I have compromising information about you” or “pay me or I will share your secrets”.
These messages can also contain links to malicious websites that can install malware on the victim’s computer, allowing the scammer to gain access to their personal data and photos.
Sextortion scammers use tactics such as creating fake profiles on social media platforms and using phishing techniques to gain access to personal data.
Victims can be coerced into performing sexual acts online or on camera with the perpetrator threatening to post these videos online if the victim does not comply with their demands.
Sextortion cases involving minors have increased in recent years due to increased availability of cellphones, social media and other technology in society.
In addition, as written in a press release from the FBI, there was an increase in reports of online extortion scams during the current “stay-at-home” orders due to the COVID-19 crisis.
In some cases, perpetrators use threats or influence over minors who are already being sexually abused to coerce them into providing sexual material.
Steps to take if you are a victim of sextortion
If you are a victim of sextortion, it is important to take the necessary steps to protect yourself and seek help from authorities:
- First of all, do not pay the ransom: paying the ransom will make you a possible victim for subsequent attacks;
- Collect evidence and any conversations with the extortionist, and note their contact information on any online platform;
- Notify the social media platform hosting the illegally distributed content by reporting it;
- Block any contact with the blackmailer: considering the option of temporarily deactivating the accounts, but without deleting them because you would lose the evidence;
- Protect your accounts by changing passwords for all accounts and strengthening privacy and security settings;
- Report the harassment to the police.
You can count on the support of a specialized team that will assist you throughout the process.
CRO Cyber Rights Organization conducts a case-by-case assessment and according to our internal policy, our pool of experts provides numerous ad hoc services.
During the whole process it is essential that you seek emotional support from family members or friends during this difficult time.
Consequences of sextortion
Sextortion can have devastating consequences for the victim.
Survivors may suffer from feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation, as well as physical and psychological trauma.
They may also experience financial losses due to the payment demands made by the perpetrator.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), estimates that they received over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints, resulting in losses of more than $13 million in 2021.
The emotional pain caused by sextortion can be just as damaging as any physical harm suffered by its victims.
The psychological and emotional impact of sextortion
The psychological and emotional impact of sextortion can be serious and long-lasting: it is a form of exploitation and abuse.
Sextortion can also cause long-term damage to victims’ reputations and relationships with family, friends, and employers.
Additionally, sextortion can lead to further exploitation as perpetrators may continue to target survivors for more money or favors.
It also has implications for our online security as it can be used as a tool for blackmail and identity theft.
Into the psychological and emotional impact of sextortion there are:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Survivors may also suffer social consequences such as ostracism or bullying by peers.
It is important for survivors to seek help in order to manage their emotions and cope with the trauma they have experienced.
CRO Cyber Rights Organization created an anonymous helpline to allow survivors to report image-based sexual abuse, recorded sexual assault, sextortion or other types of cybercrime.
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Preventing sextortion: how to stay safe online and offline?
Being aware of potential scams: while sextortion itself is not a scam, the threats that come with it are often very real.
That being said, sextortion scams have been around since the dawn of time and can range from relatively harmless to very aggressive and threatening.
To avoid falling victim to any sextortion scam, be sure to exercise caution when online, as you are most susceptible when using your computer or phone in public places.
If you notice someone who appears to be following you on social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram for example, take caution if they appear too interested in your personal
There are also many government campaigns that involve parents to make them more aware of their children’s online experiences.
The one promoted by this video released by the FBI is just one example of the latest.
One thing must be clear: the outcome of these actions depends on the cooperation of all of us.
To this end, it is very important that each country makes an effort to improve its laws and regulations.
In the case of the European Union, there is also the European Cybercrime Center (EC3), a division of Europol:
“It was set up by Europol to strengthen the law enforcement response to cybercrime in the EU and thus to help protect European citizens, businesses and governments from online crime.”
Creating an online and offline safe environment means, first of all, creating awareness and knowledge.
The dangers of sextortion are becoming more and more concrete and widespread, affecting people of both sexes, even teenagers and children under the age of 10.
The guide of the CRO Cyber Rights Organization wants to warn against this threat.
These are the conclusions that can be drawn from the text:
- Sextortion is a form of online harassment and blackmail that involves the use of non-consensual sexual content to extort money or other favors from victims;
- In 2022, over 3,000 minor victims were targeted in the past year across the United States;
- 79% of sextortion incidents occurred on Instagram or Snapchat;
- Sextortion is often confused with revenge porn, but sextortion is related to the issue of blackmail and extortion; while in the revenge porn the publication or dissemination of intimate and private content has already occurred;
- Female child victims are being blackmailed more significantly for sexually explicit material; instead, male children are more so targeted for financial gain;
- The IC3 estimates that they received over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints, resulting in losses of more than $13 million in 2021;
- The psychological and emotional impact of sextortion can be serious and long-lasting: it is a form of exploitation and abuse.
CRO Cyber Rights Organization wants to firmly fight against all forms of cyber abuse and harassment, creating a more respectful socio-cultural context online and offline.
Are you a victim of online crime or abuse?
Contact the CRO Helpline