Sextortion: What is it and how can protect yourself from it?

The internet can be a very scary place and it seems every day it becomes scarier.  This is especially true for parents of teens. In the early days of the internet the concern was about the websites their children could access or stumble across. Next came instant messaging, chatting and social networking. Parents needed to monitor and be aware of who their teens were chatting with, “friending” and whether or not the teen actually knew the person on the other end. It is not uncommon to regularly hear of a teen who has been lured by a predator into meeting face to face. In some cases the teen actually gets onto an airplane to meet a stranger pretending to be a friend.  It shouldn’t shock us that there is a new crime unfolding on the internet.

The ramifications of this new evolution online are devastating. This new concern for teens and parents is a form of bullying and extortion on steroids! It starts by a predator hacking into a computer of a victim (generally an underage girl). Once access is achieved, he searches for explicit photos on the computer, downloads them and then attempts to extort more pictures and/or videos from them. “Sextortion” is the new term coined by federal prosecutors to describe the crime that has been committed.

Sextortion involves sex and extortion being used online to bully, harass and embarrass unsuspecting victims.  Although there are only a few documented and confirmed cases around the country, it should give parents a reason to open lines of communication with their teens. The perpetrator of this type of crime rely on the teen being too afraid to tell anyone, especially parents.  Similar to pedophiles the “sextortionist” will coerce their victimby threatening them. They threaten them by saying if they do not comply the pictures will be posted online. They may also threaten to hurt or kill them. They will say just about anything to seize control over the victim.

How does sextortion happen?

Teens are especially vulnerable because they can be extremely trusting online. As the internet has evolved, social networking has become an integral part of teen life. Because of this, these sites allow teens to inadvertently become prey.  A phisher will pose as the young lady’s friend or family member, send them a message with an attachment; either through e-mail or the social network, asking them to watch a video. Since the message appears to be from a trusted source, the victim will click on the attachment which then installs a virus on the computer. They have just compromised the computer. The hacker will have complete control over it including files, folders, webcam and microphone. Once this happens, the pervert will search for illicit material. If found, the unsuspecting young lady has just become a victim to the sextortionist.

He will then contact the victim, demanding more photos or videos from them. If they refuse, they are threatened with total humiliation.

How can you prevent yourself or your child from becoming victimized by the sextortionist?

Be aware that your anti-virus software is not fool-proof. Always be on guard. If you receive an e-mail or message from someone you know that doesn’t seem “in character” question what you’ve received. It’s simple to make a phone call asking if they indeed sent the message/attachment.

Don’t leave your computer “on” when it is not in use. The victims in the known sextortion cases have come from women who chatted on social network sites and never turned off their machine.

If you have a webcam, cover it up when you are not using it.

Last, but certainly not least, if you are a young lady and have been receiving threats online, don’t be afraid to talk to your parents or your local law enforcement agency.

If you are a parent, talk to your teens about what is happening online, and ensure that they know you are there to support them, and if anyone at anytime threatens them, you will be there to help them.