Geraldine Strawbridge

Geraldine Strawbridge is a graduate from the University of Glasgow. As the Editor of Cyber Radio, Geraldine is focused on delivering the latest cyber security news whilst making cyber security more relatable to people in their everyday lives.

Sextortion Scams on the Rise

Blackmail has been around for a long time and the digital age has enabled criminals to use a host of new tactics to dupe victims out of money.

This has been evident in the explosion of ransomware and a worrying new trend has been the upsurge in people being targeted in sextortion scams.

Sextortion is a form of blackmail where criminals will use fake identities to befriend victims online, often using well known social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Skype. Once a victim has been reeled in, they will be coerced into performing sexual acts in front of their webcam.

The crooks will secretly record their victims and then blackmail them by threatening to release the footage to their family and friends unless they pay a ransom.

Victims are often so ashamed and embarrassed by the experience that they will try and pay the ransom to stop the footage from ever being released.

The majority of victims tend to be young men aged between 17 and 25, although men aged over 60 are also vulnerable to being targeted.

Sextortion can be extremely damaging and at least five young British men have taken their own lives after falling victim to the online scam.

Despite a record 1,304 cases being reported to the UK police last year, the National Crime Agency believes this is only the tip of the iceberg and the figures are likely to be well in advance of this but vastly underreported due to the nature of the scam.

Sextortion makes the headlines

The latest sextortion scam to hit the headlines is thought to have conned hundreds of people out of cash due to the highly personalised information used in the sting.

Victims have been receiving emails informing them that their computer has been hacked and they have been recorded watching porn. The criminals warn that unless they pay a ransom in Bitcoin, the video will be released to all their contacts.

What differentiates this email from the host of other scams doing the rounds is that the victim’s password is included in the subject line of the email. This has convinced many recipients that the scam is real and security company Barkly, reported that $250,000 has already been made in ransom payments.

Image: A copy of the scam email

Some of the victims reported that the password used in the scam was up to 10 years old, leading some security experts to believe that the compromised passwords may have been sourced from one of the many data breaches over the last decade.

This demonstrates just how easily criminals can capitalise on this stolen data and as long as the crooks are generating such large profits, these scams will continue to rise.

What to do if you’re a victim of sextortion

1. Don’t panic: Contact your local police and internet service provider to report the crime. It will be dealt with it in confidence and you will not be judged.

2. Do not pay any ransom: The criminals may promise that any compromising material will be deleted as soon as you make payment, but increasingly what happens is that as soon as the victim pays the ransom, the blackmailers will come back demanding a higher amount or they may just go ahead and post the explicit content regardless.

3. Do not have any further correspondence with the criminals: Keep a note of all previous communication and screen shot any conversations that have taken place.

4. Keep all evidence: It’s vital not to delete any correspondence between yourself and the criminals and to make a note of all the details included in the scam. This could be the Facebook URL, the Skype ID, Money transfer control numbers and any videos or pictures that were sent.

5. Change Passwords: If you use the same password year after year it greatly increases the chance of your accounts being hacked. Rather than change your full password each month, you can change characters, numbers, add symbols, or reverse the use of uppercase or lowercase letters.

6. Turn off your Webcam: Make sure that your webcam is covered and turned off when not in use.

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