Here’s what you can do to protect yourself against ‘sextortion’ scams

Local News

(WRIC) — The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning of a ‘Sextortion’ scam where criminals are blackmailing people into giving them money over the internet. 

“Sextortion emails typically include threats to reveal images and videos of the victim watching or utilizing pornography, copies of their browser history or evidence that they downloaded videos from pornographic sites,” the BBB wrote in a news release. 

In April, BBB’s received 32 reports of this scam from around the country. 

“The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov) also recently reported an uptick in online extortion scams during the stay-at-home orders issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic. With more people staying at home and likely using their phone, computer or tablet, con artists are using this opportunity to their advantage in hopes of getting money from you,” wrote the BBB. 

The Better Business Bureau said the scammers will contact anyone, whether or not they’ve actually visited pornographic sites. They’ll claim to have hacked your computer, activated your webcam, and videoed you while you watched pornography. They’ll tell you they have been able to access all the pornographic websites you have visited and threaten to send embarrassing images, videos and screenshots to stolen contacts, family, friends and co-workers if payment is not made, according to the BBB. 

BBB is sharing the following tips to help you identify and protect yourself from sextortion emails:

  • The scammer does not provide any details about what site you supposedly visited.
  • The scammer cannot support their threat with any evidence, for example, a compromising screenshot to prove they have the information they claim.
  • The scammer requests an urgent ransom be paid in gift cards, bitcoins or wire transfer.
  • Other red flags include grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and a window of time in which to pay up.

Patrick Siewert, a computer forensic consultant with Richmond based company, ProDigital, says he’s received calls from central Virginians who’ve fallen victim to the scam.

“The email says that we have you on web cam doing horrible things to yourself and we’re going to release this video on the internet unless you pay us $2,000 in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency,” he told 8News on Wednesday. He said the victims have unfortunately paid the scammers thousands of dollars.

In the cases he’s seen, criminals are digging up people’s personal information, like passwords, and including them in the subject line to prove they mean business.

“Change your passwords if you haven’t already. Change them again even if you’ve changed them recently,” he said, “just go on about your business. Don’t pay the money obviously.”

Joell Denison with the Richmond Justice Initiative told 8News, “that act of sextortion, especially toward minors, is a very easy morph into sex trafficking.” The Richmond Justice Initiative works to educate people on human trafficking, which they hope will decrease the amount of times people fall victim to it. Denison said Richmond is among the top 20 worst jurisdictions for human trafficking in the country.

And, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, “there’s a perfect storm right now for why children are more at risk while online,” she said. “Because of the virus, all of the creeps are increasingly online.”

She said parents should make kids feel safe to share what they’re experiencing online. “Letting them know that if anything were to happen or anything was suspicious, that they’d always be open to listen.”

The organization is holding a virtual “Benefit for Freedom” on May 28 to May 30. They’re raising money to “prevent and end human trafficking,” according to the event description. “It can be both infuriating and paralyzing to learn of the overwhelming number of people currently being sold as victims of human trafficking, and that traffickers are targeting vulnerable youth online during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the event’s description reads.

You can learn more about the virtual event here.

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