Sextortion is defined as blackmail in which sexual information or images are used to extort sexual favours and/or money from the victim.
This online blackmail is often conducted by sophisticated organized criminal networks operating out of business-like locations similar to call centres. Though there is no one method by which criminal target their victims, many individuals are targeted through websites including social media, dating, webcam or adult pornography sites.
Criminals often target hundreds of individuals around the world simultaneously, in an attempt to increase their chances of finding a victim.
What to do if you believe you are being targeted?
Immediately cease all contact with the individual and report the matter to your local police and online service provider. If the blackmail is occurring through a social network, also alert the administrator.
Do not pay the money which is being demanded.
Here are a few tips for how we can protect ourselves and help protect our loved ones:
The simplest and cheapest thing you can do is to put a removable sticker or opaque tape over your webcam when you are not using it. It is also a good idea to unplug stand-alone webcams when they are not in use. You may wish to turn computers off or close laptops when you are not using them.
- Supervise children’s computer or device use
Another tip that costs absolutely nothing but has a huge impact is to instruct kids to keep computers and tablets in common rooms where a responsible adult is present. Devices like smartphones are trickier, as kids carry these with them wherever they go. Ideally, you would teach children at an early when it is appropriate to send photographs. But as any parents of teenagers can tell you, this is an age where the brain is not yet fully capable of planning for future consequences or impulse control. Disabling the camera within the phone’s operating system or using parental control software may be helpful.
- Layered security
All those things that security wonks regularly tell you to do apply here too: Use strong passwords. Verify with senders before opening unexpected attachments. Update your software promptly. Use a firewall and anti-malware software. Keep in mind that some malware attacks are targeted, meaning criminals may customize their tools so that more simplistic anti-malware programs do not detect them, and victims are more apt to take the bait. Do not assume technology alone will protect you; you must also do your part to protect yourself.
- Talk with your kids
As with protecting kids from online predators, it is important to keep an open line of communication with kids. Let your children know they can come to you without fear of reprisal, and express a genuine interest in their online activities. The targets of these crimes are victims, no matter what they did or how they responded to the threat.
- Go to police, not to schools
In some cases the person committing sextortion is a teenager too. But this is a crime, regardless of the age of the perpetrator. In addition to being a type of extortion, that crime can also be prosecuted as possession of child pornography if the victim is a child, and it may also be considered revenge porn in some jurisdictions if the victim is an adult. Report any such activities to your local law enforcement first, not the child’s school. It is not the job of educators or administrators to handle crime; possessing or exchanging pictures of a person (especially a minor) without their consent is a very serious matter that should be handled by police.