How To Protect Yourself From Sextortion And Resources For Victims

Learn how to protect yourself from sextortion and find resources for victims. Protect your privacy and reputation online.

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What is sextortion?

Sextortion is a form of online harassment and blackmail that involves the use of non-consensual sexual content to extort money or other favors from victims, or damage their online reputation

It usually involves someone sending unsolicited sexual images or videos to another person, then demanding money in exchange for not releasing them publicly. 

Sextortion is a serious crime and can have serious consequences, including financial loss and emotional trauma for the victims and even jail time for the criminals.

According to the FBI and Partners Issue National Public Safety Alert, in 2022, over 3,000 minor victims were targeted across the United States.

What is sextortion ReputationUP

This cybercrime often goes unreported because victims fear the public humiliation of their personal information being spread, all the more reason to know how to protect yourself from sextortion.

Definition of sextortion

The eSafety Commissioner, the Australian government agency, defines sexual extortion, also known as sextortion, as follows

“A form of blackmail where someone threatens to share intimate images of you unless you give in to their demands.”

Protecting yourself from sextortion typically involves taking action against the perpetrator threatening to post embarrassing or sensitive photos and videos of the victim online.

Usually it happens through social media platforms, if they don’t comply with the demands of the perpetrator. 

How does sextortion work?

Sextortion is a form of cyber extortion where perpetrators threaten to publish intimate images or videos of their victims unless they are paid money or given other favors. 

It is an increasingly common cybercrime that has been on the rise in recent years. 

Looking at the declaration released by the eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant regarding the situation in Australia, in the first quarter of 2023 the commissioner receives 1700 reports of sextortion.

How does sextortion work ReputationUP

Compared to the same period in 2022, when there were 600, the rise is more than +183%.

This type of online violence usually follows a pattern:

  • The offender lures the victim online or in person;
  • Through a messaging chat or on the same social platforms, he asks to send explicit sexual content;
  • At this point, the criminal threatens to ruin the victim’s digital reputation by publishing the content unless the victim sends more material or pays a ransom.

Protecting yourself from sextortion also means protecting yourself from potentially sharing personal information, such as passwords and bank accounts, if the victim doesn’t pay.

This crime is very often committed on gaming platforms, instant messaging platforms and apps, and social platforms.

How to protect yourself from different types of sextortion

Sextortion can take several forms, including:

  • Online sextortion.

Online sextortion involves threats of releasing intimate photos or videos online, on social media platforms, websites or group chat.

To protect yourself from this type of sextortion, you usually need to remove images from Google or other kinds of content after the threat.

  • Physical sextortion.

It involves threats of physical harm if the victim does not comply with the demands. 

  • Financial sextortion.

As explained by the ICE, this is the difference between traditional and financial sextortion:

“Traditional sextortion occurs when a victim is threatened or blackmailed into providing more sexual imagery; the predator threatens to share their nude or sexual images with the public. Financial sextortion occurs when a predator demands money or gift cards in exchange for keeping their sexual images private.”

  • Relationship sextortion.

Relationship sextortion occurs when someone threatens to release intimate images or videos unless the victim agrees to enter into a romantic relationship with them.

Regardless of the type of threat, victims often find themselves fighting against the publication of private and personal content on the Internet.

This is why they turn to companies like ReputationUP to remove negative information from the Internet.

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Most vulnerable platforms and applications to protect yourself from sextortion

The growing reliance on social media and communication platforms has created opportunities for attackers to exploit victims in new and sophisticated ways.

All platforms and applications have become fertile ground for these attacks, especially those most commonly used by young people.

As reported by We Protect, 65% of Gen Z youth, across all platforms and devices, say they have been victims of online scams such as catfishing or have been hacked by criminals who stole explicit images or other private information.

Most vulnerable platforms and applications ReputationUP

This data is alarming and underscores the importance of being aware of online risks. 

Aside from the social media platforms, ICE showed that a recent trend in sextortion is targeting boys between the ages of 14 and 17.

This highlights the importance of educating young people about the risks associated with social media use and encouraging them to protect their information from sextortion.

The tactics and targets of sextortion scammers

Sextortion scammers usually target vulnerable individuals who are more likely to be embarrassed by the situation and pay the ransom.

According to Europol‘s report, female child victims are being blackmailed more significantly for sexually explicit material (84%) compared to their male counterparts (53%).

Instead, male children are more so targeted for financial gain (32% compared to 2% for female child victims).

The tactics and targets of sextortion scammers ReputationUP

The tactics used by scammers vary, but to know how to protect yourself from sextortion, keep in mind that sextortion often involves sending emails or messages containing threats such as “I have compromising information about you” or “pay me or I will share your secrets”

These messages can also contain links to malicious websites that can install malware on the victim’s computer, allowing the scammer to gain access to their personal data and photos.

Sextortion scammers use tactics such as creating fake profiles on social media platforms and using phishing techniques to gain access to personal data.

In addition, as written in a press release from the FBI, there was an increase in reports of online extortion scams during the “stay-at-home” orders due to the COVID-19 crisis.

In some cases, perpetrators use threats or influence over minors who are already being sexually abused to coerce them into providing sexual material.

How to protect yourself from sextortion?

To avoid falling victim to any sextortion scam and protect yourself from sextortion, be sure to exercise caution when online, as you are most susceptible when using your computer or phone in public places. 

Use social media monitoring tools to check if on some network anybody is publishing or is sharing pictures or videos of you.

If you notice someone who appears to be following you on social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram for example, take caution if they appear too interested in your personal information.

Protect yourself from sextortion step by step

The Internet Complaint Center (IC3), shared with users a list of recommendations to follow when they post content online:

  1. Use discretion when sharing information:

    Images, videos, or personal information posted online can be captured, manipulated, and distributed by malicious actors without your consent.

    Once content is shared on the internet, it can be difficult to remove.

  2. Run frequent online searches:

    Look for your or your children’s information online to help identify the exposure and spread of personal information on the internet.

    Consider using reverse image searches to check if your photos appear anywhere online that you’re not aware of.

  3. Apply privacy settings:

    Check each social media privacy settings and limit who can see your posts and personal information.

    Also, research the data sharing, and data retention policies of social media platforms, apps, and websites before uploading and sharing images, videos, or other personal content.

  4. Exercise caution:

    Be wary when accepting friend requests, communicating, engaging in video conversations, or sending images to individuals you do not know personally. 

    On guard of individuals who immediately ask or pressure you to provide them pictures or information. 

  5. Use discretion:

    When interacting with known individuals online who appear to be acting outside their normal pattern of behavior, don’t provide them any picture.

    Hacked social media accounts can easily be manipulated by malicious actors to gain trust from friends or contacts to further criminal schemes or activity.

Know what to do if targeted, considering you have the option to delete URL from Google.

Remember, the key is to be cautious, informed, and always prioritize your safety both online and offline.

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What can you do to protect yourself from sextortion if you are a victim?

If you are a victim of sextortion, it is important to take the necessary steps to avoid reputational damage and protect yourself and seek help from authorities: 

  • First of all, do not pay the ransom because it may make you a possible victim for subsequent attacks;
  • Collect evidence and any conversations with the extortionist, and note their contact information on any online platform;
  • Notify the social media platform hosting the illegally distributed content;
  • Block any contact with the blackmailer, considering the option of temporarily deactivating the accounts, but without deleting them because you would lose the evidence;
  • Protect your accounts by changing passwords for all accounts and strengthening privacy and security settings;
  • Report the harassment to the police.

In the meantime, to protect yourself from sextortion you should also contact a company that can remove online content to erase any trace of the photos or videos online.

ReputationUP conducts a case-by-case assessment and according to our internal policy, our pool of experts provides numerous ad hoc services.

Resources and help to protect yourself from sextortion

Being a victim of this crime can be a traumatic and isolating experience.

However, there are resources available to help navigate this difficult situation and protect yourself from sextortion.

Within the European Union, the deletion of content related to crimes such as sextortion can be invoked under the aegis of the right to be forgotten.

According to the We Protect report, 56% of respondents said they sought help after being threatened, turning to a friend, parent or other trusted adult.

51% reported the incident to the platform, a hotline, or law enforcement.

38% blocked the perpetrator; 30% took other actions, including updating account security; 26% closed their accounts.

Resources and help for sextortion victims ReputationUP

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) offers a free service called Take It Down that can help victims remove or stop sharing online nude or sexually explicit content taken when they were under 18.

Protect yourself from sextortion and email scams

In 2023, sextortion email scams have made a disturbing return.

Infosecurity Magazine detected a 178% increase in sextortion emails between the first half of 2022 and the same period this year, marking the category out as a top email threat.

Sextortion and email scams ReputationUP

These emails, often sent in bulk, contain threats to disclose compromising images or videos of the victim unless a ransom is paid.

ESET has observed an alarming growth in the number of deceptive Android loan apps.

These apps impersonate legitimate personal loan services, exploiting vulnerable individuals with urgent financial needs.

It is crucial for users to be aware of the different techniques used by cybercriminals.

This can allow them to better protect themselves from sextortion or act more quickly to delete online presence.

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How to identify and handle fraudulent emails?

Identifying and managing fraudulent emails is essential if you want to protect yourself from sextortion and safeguard your information.

It is important not to respond to or interact with suspicious emails and to report them to the appropriate authorities.

Users should be especially wary of emails that contain suspicious links or attachments, requests for personal or financial information, or any type of threat or urgency.

That is an easy way in which hackers can also threaten companies and ruin their corporate reputation.

Remember that banks or credit institutions will never ask for sensitive information over the phone or via email.

It’s also a good practice to verify the sender’s email address and compare it to the official address of the organization they claim to represent.

In addition, users should use updated antivirus and anti-ransomware software to protect their devices from potential threats.

Protect yourself from sextortion on social networks 

The Federal Trade Commission highlighted that 58% of 2022 sextortion reports identified social media as the method of contact; with Instagram and Snapchat topping the list.

Sextortion on social networks ReputationUP

While these social media sites offer opportunities to connect and share, they can also expose users to significant risks.

Knowing how to protect yourself from sextortion in these media has become critical.

Attackers often use fake profiles to deceive victims, gain their trust, and then blackmail them with compromising material.

It is important for users to be aware of these tactics and exercise caution when interacting with strangers online.

In the same report, FTC stated that 40% of people who reported losing money to a romance scam last year said the contact started on social media; 19% said it started on a website or app.

Romance scam like sextortion ReputationUP

This underscores the risks associated with interacting with strangers online and the importance of being careful not to damage your reputation.

Snapchat, instagram and the associated risks

Platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram, while popular with young people, can be exploited by attackers to target and extort victims.

As reported by Cybertip.ca, the canadian national tip line for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children, 79% of sextortion incidents occurred on Instagram or Snapchat.

Snapchat, instagram and the associated risks ReputationUP

As the website explains:

“Amounts of money demanded range from as little as $9 (the amount a youth had in their bank account) to $7,500.”

Users should be aware of the privacy settings on these platforms and ensure that they only share information with people they trust.

Consequences of sextortion 

Sextortion can have devastating consequences for the victim. 

Survivors may suffer from feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation, that explain the desire and need to disappear from the web.

As well as physical and psychological trauma

They may also experience financial losses due to the payment demands made by the perpetrator. 

In its report, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), estimates that they received over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints, resulting in losses of more than $13 million in 2021

Consequences of sextortion ReputationUP

Sextortion can also cause long-term damage to victims’ personal reputation and relationships with family, friends, and employers. 

Additionally, not knowing how to protect yourself from sextortion can lead to further exploitation as perpetrators may continue to target survivors for more money or favors. 

It also has implications for our online security as it can be used as a tool for blackmail and identity theft

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Sextortion is a serious crime that can have serious legal consequences for the perpetrator.

Protecting yourself from sextortion also means being aware of the legal aspects that define this violation.

Laws vary from state to state and country to country, but in many places sextortion is considered a form of coercion and can result in severe penalties.

In most cases, this crime is associated with online defamation, as it is considered harmful to a person’s rights and image, both online and offline.

Where to report cases to protect yourself from sextortion?

There are many government campaigns that involve parents to make them more aware of their children’s online experiences.

The one promoted by this video released by the FBI is just one example of the latest.

These initiatives are to encourage complaints so that the authorities can intervene not only to delete Google search results, but also by arresting the perpetrators.

In the case of the European Union, there is also the European Cybercrime Center (EC3), a division of Europol, to report sextortion cases:

“It was set up by Europol to strengthen the law enforcement response to cybercrime in the EU and thus to help protect European citizens, businesses and governments from online crime.”

Creating an online and offline safe environment means, first of all, creating awareness and knowledge.

In general, even if there are no direct reporting lines, there is always the option to report the crime to local law enforcement in each country.

There are often helplines set up by associations dedicated to helping protect yourself from sextortion and reduce the incidence and consequences of this crime.

Conclusions

The dangers of sextortion are becoming more and more concrete and widespread, affecting people of both sexes, even teenagers and children under the age of 10.

The guide of the ReputationUP wants to warn against this threat.

These are the conclusions that can be drawn from the text:

  • Sextortion is a form of online harassment and blackmail that involves the use of non-consensual sexual content to extort money or other favors from victims, and damage their online reputation;
  • In 2022, over 3,000 minor victims were targeted across the United States;
  • 79% of sextortion incidents occurred on Instagram or Snapchat;
  • The IC3 estimates that they received over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints, resulting in losses of more than $13 million in 2021;
  • In the first quarter of 2023 the commissioner received 1700 reports of sextortion; compared to the same period in 2022, when there were 600, the rise is more than +183%;
  • 65% of Gen Z youth, across all platforms and devices, say they have been victims of online scams;
  • 58% of 2022 sextortion reports identified social media as the method of contact.

ReputationUP wants to empower you by providing clear measures to protect yourself against sextortion.

This goal of resolutely fighting all forms of cybercrime is put into practice by offering its partners a complete online reputation management strategy, including content removal under the GDPR.

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FAQ

How can sextortion affect my online reputation?

Sextortion can have a devastating effect on a person’s online reputation. If compromising material is actually distributed, it can be difficult to remove it from all websites or social platforms.

How is sextortion different from cyberbullying?

While both are malicious acts online, sextortion specifically refers to blackmail using sexual images or videos of the victim as leverage, while cyberbullying can include any type of online harassment or intimidation.

Is it possible for a stranger to obtain intimate images or videos without my consent?

Yes, through hacking, malware, or social engineering techniques, attackers can access personal devices and steal photos or videos without the owner’s consent.

What are the signs that I may be a victim of sextortion?

If you receive messages or emails from strangers claiming to have compromising material about you and asking for money or other favors in exchange for your silence, you may be a victim of sextortion.

What can I do to protect or restore my online reputation after being a victim of sextortion?

Contact the authorities and consider hiring an organization or company that specializes in online reputation management to remove compromising material from the Internet.

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