Sextortion - A crime of Passion
Since the earliest days of the internet, there have been those who sought to use the anonymity it promised for ill-gotten gain. Today, most of us know not to have dealings with deposed Nigerian royalty, or to truly believe we’ve won a sweepstakes we did not enter.
Unfortunately, as we have become savvier and more aware of these old tricks, internet-based con-men have more than kept pace. Today, their methods of exploitation are more personal, subtler, crueler, more cynical. They no longer have to rely on their intended victim’s desire for a quick buck, or his ignorance of the West African geopolitcal situation. They now use the basic human needs for companionship, sexual fulfillment, even love.
This is called “sextortion” and, as its name would suggest, it’s a form of blackmail. The victim is approached by an attractive individual online, and plied into exchanging explicit photos or videos. When the extortionist has gained the compromising material, the financial demands begin. Often, this doesn’t come as an immediate revelation of the blackmailer’s true intentions, but is done “in-character”, to test the waters and gauge if their intended victim will actually send money.
Such was the case with a client of mine, whose putative online girlfriend began with requests for funds to help her sick mother, then dropped the mask when he refused. I discussed this case in a recent “Playboy” interview, link below.]
Once the perpetrators have received payment, the victim is trapped. He knows that if he refuses their further demands, the damaging material he exchanged will be exposed. He may fear losing his job, his marriage, his family. He feels violated, ashamed, afraid, humiliated. He believes his only option is to keep up with their financial demands, which often become more and more excessive over time.
The police are often ineffectual in these situations, despite their best efforts. Variance in state law, and the general inability of legislation to keep up with technological advances has left them hamstrung. In addition, the majority of these sextortionists are based overseas, in Nigeria, the Philippines, and elsewhere, which makes investigation and prosecution doubly difficult. Fortunately, private companies devoted to this exact problem have emerged to meet this growing threat.
If one does one’s research and chooses a reputable firm, with a solid cybersecurity background, the demands can cease, and the victim can breathe a sigh of relief. Though it may be embarrassing to reach out for help in this situation, these companies understand his predicament and are there to help.
If you or someone you love has been exploited by sextortionists, know it’s not your fault. Don’t let shame keep you from seeking help. The only way this exploitation can ever be be curbed is if the subjects of these scams step forward and do their part to end it.