As wonderful as it can be, the internet is also a haven for a lot of nasty characters. They can do practically anything they want, with access to a massive amount of potential victims. And they can do it all anonymously. One of the latest profitable ventures for malicious digital deviants is extortion. Sextortion is a combination of an online scam, some catfishing, and ransomware. Unfortunately, due to the nature of this scam, many people don’t report any incidents, making it even more dangerous. So, it’s hard to get a good look at the scope of this scam or gain insight into how it’s evolving. But it seems to be a rapidly growing problem. Ever heard of sextortion before? Learn what to look out for and how not to become the scammers’ next victim.
What is Sextortion?
One of the issues of successfully identifying sextortion is the multifaceted nature of the scam. A popular sextortion scam involves catfishing individuals through dating sites or social media apps. The scammer gets the victim into a comfortable place then asks for compromising photos or videos. Once they have it, they reveal their true nature and start threatening to share the files, unless a ransom is paid. Right now, there’s no real way to know how prevalent this problem is. It’s hard to admit when one’s been scammed but even more so when it involves something private like sex. Catfishing has been around for a while now, but sextortion is a step up from that and can affect anyone.
A different but just as effective method involves scammers using stolen passwords and usernames to threaten unsuspecting victims. They usually send a sinister message or email claiming that they’ve gotten hold of embarrassing or sensitive information of the person. The scammer then demands a payment (often in Bitcoin), threatening to send the information to the person’s contacts. This method is uncannily effective because the scammers usually spoof the victim’s email, according to a new Barracuda report. They don’t have damaging information, but the victims tend to believe them anyway. Finally, the last method involves hackers getting into secure accounts where explicit photos or videos are stored. They then contact the owner of the account and demand money, or they will share the media with the public. This isn’t limited to one group of people, either. It can happen to multibillionaires too.
How to Stay Protected From Sextortion Scams
- Use a Password Manager
Password and username breaches are a big issue, and one of the leading reasons these scammers can operate the way they do. Using the same login details across accounts exacerbates the issue, as that’s how they gain access. If remembering different passwords is an issue, then try using a password manager.
- Don’t Save Dicey Media Online
Sextortion scammers can’t use anything against a person if they don’t have access to any provocative files. Nothing is safe, not even in the most secure cloud servers. Remember Celebgate?
- Install VPN Software
Many extortioners claim to have gotten explicit videos of people by recording through their webcams without their knowledge. Right now, there are no data to support whether these claims are mostly true or not. But there is plenty of evidence to show that people do get spied on through their webcams. Using a VPN can nip that problem in the bud as this technology hides a person’s IP address. So hackers won’t be able to find the laptop or phone through normal means. It also encrypts the device’s network connection, making it near impossible for attackers to latch on.
What to Do in Case of an Attack
Taking precautions is immensely important, but that doesn’t mean nothing will ever happen. Even the most careful person could still get targeted. Here’s what to do if that happens:
- Do not Respond
Sextortion email scams generally fly under the radar of standard email spam filters. They employ a different technique and format that isn’t picked up by those filters. It means the chances of the recipient receiving these emails are pretty high. If an email like that does show up, the best thing to do is to ignore and delete it.
- Do not Pay the Ransom
The likelihood that these scammers have actual sensitive information is low. Plus, even if they do, there’s no guarantee that they won’t still share it after the ransom is paid. Do not give them what they want.
Sextortion can be a difficult ordeal that’s hard to deal with, but the fact stands that this type of ransomware scam is on the rise. People should do all they can to protect themselves from becoming easy targets. And they should not give the criminals what they demand in the event of an attack. Being targeted by sextortion is never easy and if talking about it is hard, consider contacting professionals who can help, like the Samaritans.