Sextortion: Defending Against Digital Blackmail

What is Sextortion?

Sextortion is the practice of blackmailing victims with the threat of exposing sexually explicit images, videos, or information about the victims’ sexual orientation via cell phones or other digital media unless the victims pay up or engage in more sexual acts. The sextortionist often threatens to share the sexual contents relating to the victims with friends, colleagues, or close relatives of the victims and/or social media platforms, if they refuse his/her bid.

Sextortion, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), is a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you do not provide them with images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.

Sextortion is part of a larger continuum of image-based sexual abuse (IBSA), which includes crimes such as revenge pornography and non-consensual sexting, in which sexually explicit images are used for harm.

Methods of Sextortion

The practice of sextortion can take the following forms, namely:

Catfishing

This occurs when a sextortionist poses to be someone by creating fake accounts on social media or dating sites (an incredibly beautiful lady or rich and handsome guy) thereby arousing the interest of the victim towards building a relationship, etc. The impostor through this tactic lures the unsuspecting victim into releasing some sexually explicit videos or images or performing some sexual acts while on camera. These pictures and videos the sextortionist would later use as a leverage to extort either money or sexual favor from the victim with the threat of exposing same if the victim does not agree to his/her demands.

Email Phishing Schemes

This employs the use of social engineering tactics by the sextortionist to perpetrate his illicit act. In this scenario the sextortionist sends an email to a target (the mail could be directed to thousands of recipients), claiming to have gotten access to explicit images or videos belonging to the recipient and threatening to disseminate same if the recipient does not agree to his demands. Such emails often with the recipient’s password (harvested from data breachers) as proof of access.

Hacked Social Media Accounts

This is the hacking of the social media account of a victim to source for sexually explicit images or chats. The sextortionist then threatens to make these contents public if the victim refuses to comply with the sextortionist’s demands.

Hacked Webcams

This involves instances where the sextortionist plants malware onto the victim’s device by tricking him to download a file containing such malware. Once there, the malware can allow the sextortionist to take control of cameras and microphones and install keyloggers which enables the monitoring of the victim’s every move around the computer. Also, through keyloggers, the sextortionist can discover and access the credentials for all the victim’s accounts.

Sextortion by Ex-lover or Close Associate

The crime of sextortion can be perpetrated by someone familiar with the victim such an ex-lover or a friend. Here, the sextortionist tries to blackmail the victim into continuing the relationship or providing them with more sexual contents or sexual favors using the victim’s sexually explicit images or other sexual contents in their possession as an undue advantage.

How to avoid being a victim

With the rise in the use of social networking platforms, and virtual meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easier to make friends with strangers online now than it used to be. You could meet a random stranger in one zoom meeting and the next thing, you are friends on Twitter or already exchanging emails. This increase in the use of remote viewing applications and the subsequent increase in the time spent online has increased the risk of sextortion. Here are some tips to keep you safe.

Remember, what gets on the internet stays on the internet. The best protection is not to create sexually explicit material of yourself in the first place. Before making a sexually explicit image or video, think about the consequences that would result if it were leaked online.Keep your private life offline, do not be quick to have intimate video calls with random strangers. You can never tell who is on the other side of the computer. The same thing goes for photos, do not share files anyone can use to rope you in.

Learn to disable your webcams when you are not using them. This tip is useful during video calls, webinars, and other similar instances.If you must use dating websites, do not lower your guard – do not be quick to move the conversation off the platform or exchange images/videos that could be used to blackmail you.Treat all email attachments with caution – you do not want anyone to plant malware on your PC, do you? Ensure you do not open email attachments from suspicious email addresses.Use of Two Factor Authentication and strong passwords to secure your social media accounts.

Actions to take if you are being blackmailed with nudes

Talk to someone

If you have someone who you trust and feel comfortable opening up to, such as a parent, sibling, reach out to them. You might feel embarrassed but talking to someone will help. They might be able to provide you with support and advice. You can also consider reaching out to a mental health professional, such as a counsellor. They can talk through what happened to you, help you to find ways to cope when you are feeling overwhelmed, and support you as you deal with the situation.

Keep a record of their communication

Write down as much information as you can about the threat or multiple threats. If they have threatened you over text, make sure to take screenshots as evidence. If someone overheard or saw the person threatening you, take note of their name and contact details. They could be witnesses if you decide to take legal action.

Report the Crime

Never cooperate with someone who is trying to blackmail or extort you, quickly report to law enforecement authorities.

Conclusion

The problem facing victims of sextortion is the inability to report such cases like this to the relevant authorities due to fear of castigation and prolonged public ridicule. Once faced with issues like this, and the pictures or files are being distributed online, the police should be notified, or a lawyer’s advice should be sought on the next line of action to be taken. If the person follows through with the threat and shares the images, make sure to keep looking after yourself as best you can. Contact individuals or organizations that specialize in the removal of explicit contents from the internet.

Contributors:

Izuchukwu Paschal UgwuSubomi LawsonSolomon Nwabueze

The post Sextortion: Defending Against Digital Blackmail appeared first on #NoGoFallMaga.

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