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What is sextortion – and how to keep yourself safe

Sextortion is a type of cyber extortion (or when someone threatens to do something harmful unless you do what they ask). In the case of sextortion, a malicious party may threaten to distribute evidence of the victim’s sexual activity unless the victim pays a ransom or meets another demand. Find out how sextortion happens, how you can protect yourself – and how to report it.

Karolis Bareckas

Karolis Bareckas

What is sextortion – and how to keep yourself safe

What is sextortion?

Sextortion is a form of sexual blackmail. It involves a malicious party getting hold of someone’s private sexual information, photos, or videos and threatening to publish them. While young people are particularly at risk of sextortion, it can happen to people of any age.

The perpetrator may try to extort money in return for not revealing the sensitive content – or make the victim do something against their will. Regardless of what they ask the victim to do, sextortion is a cybercrime and needs to be reported.

Sextortion or sexual blackmail can happen on various online platforms (particularly where webcams are used). Criminals may target people on dating sites, social networks, messaging apps, webcams, or adult sites.

Methods of sextortion

1. Phishing scams

Phishing is one of the most common methods of sextortion. You receive an email claiming that the sender has cracked one of your accounts and now possesses your sexually explicit content.

Scammers ask for money or demand that you do something else (e.g., film and send them intimate videos).

To prove they’re not joking, their sextortion email may also include your credentials, which they most likely found on some breached database.

Criminals do their homework well: they might know your employer, your partner’s name, and the squash club you regularly visit. It makes their demands more convincing – and in a state of shock – victims tend to pay up.

2. Malware

Hackers may use malware to take control of your camera and microphone – and even record what you type on your keyboard.

You may not have the slightest idea that somebody is snooping on you. Then one day, you receive a message with your intimate footage and a demand for money.

There are even websites broadcasting hacked cameras online, disturbing as it might sound.

3. Attacks on social media and dating sites

Blackmailers, like cyberbullies, may use various online platforms to attack.

They may target unsuspecting victims on social media sites, dating apps, or other platforms for meeting and communicating with others.

Cybercriminals operate in several ways, but typically, they use these platforms to gain their victims’ trust and convince them to perform sexual acts on camera. While this might seem like a game at first, victims soon realize that their videos are held for ransom.

It’s estimated that 71% of sextortion victims are under the age of 18. Criminals often operate from foreign countries, making it hard for local police to catch them.

News about Facebook “sextortionists” have made headlines many times over the past year. If you’re wondering how to deal with Facebook sextortion, the key is to remain calm.

Remember that not all blackmailers follow through on their threats. Your best course of action is to stop engaging with them immediately and report the crime. We’ll cover how to deal with sextortion in more detail later.

4. Hacked accounts

1 in 5 people have had their accounts hacked at least once. Social media messaging archives contain countless explicit (and very private) photos and videos. No wonder these archives attract hackers looking to get a dime.

Once hackers find an account with valuable content, they demand money or blackmail the victim in other ways.

Unfortunately, due to the sensitivity of the issue, many victims don’t report these cases, making the perpetrators even harder to catch.

5. Sextortion by someone you know

It isn’t always cybercriminals who may threaten to publish your sensitive information. Sometimes, it can be someone you know and even trust.

Sextortion by someone you know is just as common – whether it’s a former long-term partner or someone you only met once. People may blackmail others for many reasons: anger, spite, financial strain, and even loneliness.

It’s important to remain mindful of your actions and limit what you share with others because people aren’t always as trustworthy as they may seem.

How to protect yourself from sextortion

  • Be careful with email attachments. Never open email attachments from people you don’t know, and always double-check if the email address is valid. Scammers may pretend to be your employers, friends, or bank representatives. Once you open a suspicious attachment, you may install malware on your computer that allows hackers to access your camera and steal sensitive content.
  • Never send sexual content to strangers. If you barely know the person and have never met them in the real world, don’t send them sexual pictures and videos. While it might sound obvious, many people still fall into this trap. When you want to share intimate moments with someone you know and trust, don’t send them anything via emails or messaging apps unless the content is thoroughly encrypted.
  • Use strong passwords. Avoid using the same password for all your accounts, and create strong passwords. Many sextortion attacks happen because of leaked or stolen passwords, so taking good care of them is one way to avoid problems. Create long passwords with special characters, letters, and numbers, and consider using a password manager.
  • Get a VPN. VPN redirects your traffic through an encrypted tunnel to make your browsing private and your sensitive information secure. NordVPN masks your IP address, making sure that it’s not linked to your identity. Stay connected to a VPN server at all times to lower the risk of being hacked. NordVPN has an advanced cybersecurity feature, Threat Protection, that checks files for malware during download and blocks intrusive trackers and ads.

Online security starts with a click.

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How to deal with sextortion blackmail

If someone is blackmailing you, try not to panic. Even though it may feel like the world is collapsing, help and support are available. It’s important to remember that threatening to reveal your sensitive content is a tactic – and blackmailers don’t always follow through on their threats.

Here’s what to do if someone’s threatening to publish your sensitive sexual content:

  • Stop all communication. You may attempt to gain control of the situation by continuing to negotiate with the offenders – but it’s best to stop engaging completely.
  • Don’t give in to the offenders’ demands. Taking matters into your own hands may cause more harm than good. Whether the offending party is asking for money or demanding that you send them more content, remember you can’t trust their word – and that giving in to their demands most likely won’t help.
  • Report and block the offending party. Depending on where the blackmailing is taking place, it’s important to report the offenders. For example, if they are targeting you on social media, report the incident to the social media company, and block their profile so they can no longer reach you. If your sensitive information has already been shared, report it too. Most sites have strict rules against sharing intimate content without consent.
  • Save the evidence. Keep a record of all conversations you’ve had with the offending party. Take screenshots of their threats and messages – the more evidence you have, the better.
  • Report sextortion to the authorities. If you’re wondering how to report sexual blackmail to the authorities, you can do it in several ways. Because these procedures may vary by state, visit the FBI website to learn more.
Also available in: Italiano.

Karolis Bareckas
Karolis Bareckas Karolis Bareckas
Karolis is a tech geek who writes about cybersecurity, online privacy, and the latest gadgets. When not rattling his keyboard, he’s always eager to try a new burrito recipe or explore a new camping spot.