There may be no other invasion of privacy more nightmarish than someone threatening to publicly expose private, sensitive material to blackmail you for sexual favors or money.
This is called sexual extortion (“sextortion”), one of the most terrifying online privacy threats.
Unfortunately, cases of sextortion have risen recently, especially during the pandemic. So, in order to stay safe, it’s important to know what it is, how to stop it, and how to prevent it.
What exactly is sextortion?
Sextortion is a serious crime that occurs when someone blackmails you for money or sexual favors, threatening to expose sensitive material if you don’t give them what they want. While young males are a target group, individuals of any age or gender can be a victim.
Perpetrators frequently use fake profiles on social media or dating apps, manipulating victims into sending pictures or video to be later used as blackmail. It’s also common for a perpetrator to claim to have access to a victim’s web camera.
The scenario for each case of sextorition can be vastly different, but in every case, a sextortionist’s methodology is to use fear to control their victims by threatening to expose any acquired sensitive material online for the victim’s friends and family to see.
While the crime itself has often been associated with connections made online, sextortion can be committed offline as well.
What do I do if I’m the victim of sextortion?
Being targeted by sextortion can be a horrifying experience, but there are actions you can take immediately if you find yourself a victim.
1. Consult a trusted source
First of all, it’s important that you don’t keep this to yourself.
Although it can feel uncomfortable to talk to another party about these circumstances, you need to find someone you trust to explain the situation to who might be able to help.
You can even confer anonymously by contacting the Crisis Text Line.
2. Stop communicating with the perpetrator
Perhaps most important, never trust anything a perpetrator of sextortion says to you and stop all communication with them immediately.
In any correspondence with them, do not click links they send (even if they claim to have material from you), and never agree to do anything.
If you do continue to provide them with what they demand, it’s more likely the perpetrator will just continue to blackmail you.
3. Gather as much documentation as possible
Documentation in sextortion blackmail includes keeping screenshots of absolutely every correspondence with the perpetrator. Though you might feel compelled to delete conversations you find embarrassing, it’s vital you don’t.
Also, make sure to note any potential personal information about the perpetrator you might be able to glean from the profiles they are using, like username, email, or phone number.
The collection of this evidence is essential to prove the perpetrator’s attempted exploitation in the event that you are able to press charges.
Blackmail and extortion are very serious offenses in most states. Hiring a lawyer to inform you about your rights and pressing charges against the perpetrator is a highly recommended option. Contact the local law enforcement as soon as possible and file a report with the FBI.
Keep in mind, most perpetrators want to avoid attention, and likely won’t publish material they’re threatening you with. In some cases, they might not even have material in the first place. Their mission is often not to publish anything, but just to abuse you into giving them what they want.
How can I prevent sextortion in the future?
Sextortion is incredibly painful to deal with, but the best thing you can do after reporting an incident, and taking any or all of the actions listed above, is to immediately invest in your digital privacy and online security to prevent it from ever happening again.
Consider taking the following steps as soon as possible:
Remove your personal information from the Internet
The more sensitive information about you available on the Internet, the easier it is to target and harass you. Therefore, expose as little information online as possible.
Make a habit of using a nickname instead of a legal name, and avoid sharing details such as hometown or names of relatives.
Social media and dating apps are rife with fraudsters, so taking extra measures to protect your privacy is essential.
Make all profiles private, never accept strangers as followers or friends, disable location sharing on all platforms, and delete any old accounts. Conduct a thorough background check on anyone you don’t know personally before you communicate with them.
Beware of all suspicious links
If someone, even a trusted friend, sends you a link via text or email, or on social media, without an explanation (or if a message seems suspicious), never click on it.
Confirm with the sender to make sure that they actually sent the link. Never take the risk of downloading malware to your device that might access your camera or microphone.
Always use strong passwords
Strong passwords are characterized by a string of 10 to 12 characters, with a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols.
Never use the same or similar passwords across any platform with an online login, including email or social media accounts, and make a habit of changing your passwords frequently.
To keep track of all your passwords in one place, we recommend using a password manager.
Cover your webcam when not in use
In many cases of sextortion, perpetrators have often claimed to have access to the victim’s webcam as a way to manipulate them.
The best way to make sure you don’t have anything to hide is to keep the web camera on your computer covered when you’re not using it.
Sign up with a data-removal service
To make sure your personal information stays safe and secure, and never gets compromised again, it’s a good idea to sign up with a professional data-removal service like DeleteMe.
DeleteMe removes data and information that you request, and continuously monitors the web to ensure your personal information doesn’t end up being sold online.
Taking your protection into your own hands
Sextortion is an awful ordeal that no one should ever have to suffer. Luckily, there are ways to address it and deal with it, and steps to take to protect yourself in the future.
Remember, no matter what, the most important thing is to stay calm, then seek immediate help. There is assistance out there that can work with you to make the sextortion stop, and focus on preventing it from ever happening again by protecting your Internet privacy.