Sextortion is a cybercrime perpetrated against unwitting victims who are approached in casual conversation via social media and then seduced into engaging in online sexual activities. After fulfilling the sexual requests, which are recorded without the victim’s knowledge or consent, the victim is threatened with public exposure and embarrassment if he or she does not pay a specified sum of money to the perpetrator, usually through a wire transfer.
Service members worldwide and across all ranks have been affected by sextortion. Since August 2012, technologically savvy perpetrators have targeted at least 160 DON service members, with more than 50 confirmed “successful” incidents of sextortion resulting in a cumulative loss of more than $45,000.
Sextortion is underreported given many service members’ feelings of embarrassment and concern regarding potential consequences of their actions. Regardless, perpetrators will typically continue harassment and threats of embarrassment even if payment is made. Reporting is critical to identifying and pursuing those responsible for sextortion scams.
How does sextortion occur?
While using social media, a service member is contacted by a young, attractive individual. The service member and individual begin chatting online and subsequently exchange Skype contact information. Their online communication quickly transitions to a video chat, becoming sexual in nature.
Unknown to the service member, the individual is secretly recording the sexual act. Shortly thereafter, the individual sends the service member the video file and threatens to release it to the service member’s friends, family, and command unless the service member sends cash via Western Union. After the service member pays the initial amount, the perpetrator demands more money.
Variations on this scenario include the victim receiving phone calls and threats from the alleged father of the individual or a purported law enforcement officer claiming that the individual is a minor and that the filing of criminal charges is forthcoming.
Some common indicators of sextortion include: unknown persons approach you online or attempt to “friend” you, even if you appear to have mutual “friends” or the “friends lists” are comprised predominantly of U.S. military members; the use of poor grammar and sentence structure by the perpetrator when exchanging messages; the person encourages you to engage in explicit video chat or exchange sexually explicit images almost immediately after initiating contact or “friending” you; a video call begins with an individual in a state of undress or engaging in a sexual act; communications from “law enforcement officials” occur via text message, email, or phone.
Avoid falling victim to sextortion
- Adjust privacy settings of social media profiles and accounts to limit publicly available information to unknown persons.
- Exercise caution when accepting friend requests or communicating with unknown persons online.
- Avoid advertising or discussing U.S. military and/or U.S. government affiliations.
- Refrain from engaging in sexually explicit activities online, such as posting or exchanging compromising photos/videos.
- Turn off electronic devices and cover webcams when not in use.
- Safeguard your personal banking and credit card information from unknown recipients.
What should you do if you are targeted?
Reporting is critical to identifying and pursuing those responsible for sextortion scams. If you or someone you know identifies suspicious activity or that they are being targeted:
- Contact your command and law enforcement.
- Do not submit any payment.
- Save all messages and communications between you and the perpetrator.