Anyone can be a target of a “sextortion” scam. It’s a terrifying message, especially if someone threatens you by exposing your private moments.
Scammers use this fear to trick unsuspecting victims into giving in to their demands, whether it’s a large sum of money or sensitive information. From embarrassment to harassment, financial loss and extortion, sextortion scams are a severe threat to encounter.
These scams have steadily been on the rise, with the FBI even issuing a warning earlier in July 2023. The increase in AI-generated content creation and personal images on social media platforms makes it harder for victims to ignore these sextortion threats, even though threat actors may have no evidence or only have fake photos or videos.
But what is a sextortion scam, and how can you avoid them? This guide will fill you in on the latest wave of internet scams.
What is a ‘sextortion’ scam?
A sextortion scam is the act of threatening victims with evidence of their sexual activities in exchange for money or information. This evidence likely isn’t real, as the scammers are just bluffing to see if they can extort money.
However, malicious actors will use social engineering techniques to convince unsuspecting victims they are real. This can include revealing details to victims they believe no one should know or creating AI-generated content (or deepfakes) by manipulating images or videos to target victims.
If you received an email with a similar threat, you aren’t alone. Scammers often send millions of phishing emails, thousands at a time, to trick recipients, with malicious messages being sent to email addresses found through social profiles or via data breaches. These email scams are widespread, meaning attackers cast a wide net to see how much they can reel in.
Recently, the FBI warned of malicious actors using fake images and videos of victims to be used for their illicit financial gains. While everyone can be a target, especially in mass email phishing campaigns, younger individuals unaware of these scams are prime subjects, as they are likelier to fall for these traps.
What is an example of a sextortion scam?
Like many scams, threat actors often use phishing email campaigns to spread their scams to as many people as possible. Campaigns we’ve come across include the subject lines “Let me get straight to the point” and “Let me get to the point quickly.”
These scam email campaigns threaten users into forking over £1,000’s worth of Bitcoin, with the attacker claiming “access to your device” and making a “nice little video” through the user’s webcam. Threat actors force them to pay a ransom to prevent a compromising video from being sent out to a list of contacts.
Here’s an example of the “Let me get straight to the point” scam email below:
The attacker threatens the recipient by stating, “Your device has been compromised because you love watching sick content (you know what I’m talking about). Because of this I was able to get access to your device.” It’s apparently a recording of the user “having a good time,” and the scammer claims to have made a “nice little video in which you are the main protagonist.”
The email continues to say: “If you don’t want this recording to reach all your contacts you should consider sending 1000 GBP worth of bitcoin to my wallet.” The attacker offers their Bitcoin wallet information and links for the recipient to purchase Bitcoin. They expect the user to pay within 48 hours, saying, “after I receive the ‘reward,’ you will never hear from me ever again and the video will be deleted.”
These types of scam emails can play into your fears, but they only use generalised knowledge to trick potential victims. They also put a time limit on the transaction to pressure the victim, along with a link to the payment. These links could also lead to malicious websites or downloads that can infect your device with malware, such as spyware or ransomware.
What should I do with a sextortion scam?
The best action is to ignore the message completely. Don’t communicate with the sender; this will only lead to the malicious actor getting what they want.
If there is a ransom concerning money or private information, do not give in to the sender’s demands. More likely than not, the scammers don’t have any compromising information. By not contacting the attacker, they are likely to give up and move on, as their primary goal a profit.
A good idea is to take screenshots and save messages or images of the scam email, along with any URL links connected to the scam, and report them.
Threat actors may also include links to other websites like this scam email campaign. Do not click on these links, as they could lead you to malicious websites or install malware on your device. This phishing tactic is similar to how threat actors can hack your phone by texting.
How to avoid sextortion scams
Cybercriminals widely use phishing email campaigns since they are the easiest way to communicate with potential victims. Sextortion scams are no different, so it’s good practice to make sure you avoid these emails. It’s also worth using antivirus software to scan your device for all manner of cybersecurity threats, including scam emails with malicious links.
Find out how to block scam email senders, including those that use sextortion, and more below.
Use antivirus software to scan and block scams
One of the best antivirus software will stop scams in its tracks, including sextortion scams. Many high-standard AV protection offers near-perfect scores when detecting and protecting against malware, meaning even complex malicious software can’t go unnoticed in messages or emails.
Messages from scammers can contain harmful links or attachments filled with malware, which you never want on your device. The good news is you can let one of the best antivirus software services do all the legwork for you, as they have security and privacy features to protect your accounts.
Services such as Avast One, Bitdefender, Norton 360 and more have protection tools that block malicious email addresses, links and attachments. To make sure scams block malware damaging your device or keep you safe from threat actors hacking your phone through texting and more, set yourself up with an antivirus.
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How to block scam email in Gmail
Clicking on a sextortion scam email can evoke even more spam crowding your inbox. If you are aware of an email address consistently sending spam, you can block the email address in Gmail.
- Open Gmail on your device.
- In your inbox, check the box beside the spam email of the sender you wish to block.
- Click the three vertical dots located at the top bar of your inbox.
- Click Filter messages like these.
- In the pop-up window, select Create filter.
- Check the Delete it box and click Create filter.
When the email address tries to send you mail, it will automatically be deleted. Find out more with our how to block spam email in Gmail guide.
How to block scam email in Outlook
- Open Microsoft Outlook on your device.
- Right-click the email of the address your wish to block.
- Select Block and click Block sender.
The email address will no longer be able to send you spam. For more on how to block spam email in Outlook, we’ve got you covered.
How to block scam email in Yahoo Mail
- Open Yahoo Mail on your device.
- Click the three horizontal dots in the toolbar at the top.
- Select Block senders.
Find out more about how to block spam email in Yahoo Mail, including reporting senders and changing email privacy settings.