Digital Forensics Corporation is fighting to protect and educate the public about a rapidly growing trend in cybercrime dubbed sextortion, where online predators target teens and young adults with threats of exposing sensitive personal photos .

Extortionists hide their identity on social media platforms, claiming they have a revealing photo or video that they will share until the victim sends more images, pays money, or obscene acts. These attacks claim the lives of many teenagers and cause extreme anxiety, depression and financial loss for thousands.

Financial sexual abuse is on the rise, notes the US Department of Homeland Security’s webpage on sexual abuse, which reflects growing concerns by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) about the dangers of youth being victimized by such cyberattacks. shares the A recent analysis by that agency revealed that 79% of predators seek money rather than additional sexual fantasy.

What makes this type of cyberattack different from other extortion crimes, says Kenneth Kuglin, noted digital forensics public relations manager and former digital investigator, is its connection to hacking. The offender has already gained access to sexual material provided or stolen by the victim.

“Traditional sextortion occurs when a victim is threatened or blackmailed into providing more sexual imagery. The predator threatens to share nude or sexual images with the public,” he told TechNewsWorld. Financial sextortion is a more common type nowadays. A stalker demands money or gift cards in exchange for keeping sexual material private.

Sextortion is more common than you think

Kuglin stresses the stereotypical use of the term “assaults” when associated with sextortion. The term is not the best to describe the techniques used by criminals.

“Rather than portraying a hacker who is able to access your cloud and gain access to private photos, most cases of sextortion involve social engineering,” he said. “The perpetrator manipulates the victim into voluntarily sending images through the techniques of catfishing, posing as someone with whom the victim wishes to be intimate, and then later reveals his intentions of blackmail. “

Law enforcement agencies are seeing an increase in the prevalence of sextortion since the 2020 global pandemic. According to the FBI, there will be more than 7,000 reports of sextortion in 2022.

A survey in 2017 by Thorne, an organization focused on fighting child sexual abuse, found that 33% of sextortion victims in the study did not tell anyone because of shame or embarrassment.

“Digital forensics has seen a huge jump in sextortion-related cases since 2020. Our digital analyst team reported that at least 70% of cases in 2022 were related to sextortion,” said Kuglin.

effective functioning

Cyber ​​criminals typically operate online through various social media platforms, dating apps and messaging services to target vulnerable individuals, such as teenagers or young adults, he explained.

“Too often, we see a pattern in which these criminals contact a victim on one platform, then ask them to go to a second or third one that uses encrypted messaging, making their crimes more difficult to track.” Goes,” said Kuglin.

While sextortionists may operate independently, they often operate within an organized group or network that oversees their activities. These organizations are located in different parts of the world, making it challenging for law enforcement agencies to track them down and bring them to justice.

“Employers of these sextortion empires provide resources such as laptops and media for their employees to use to create false profiles, and in return, will cut the profits the employees make through sextortion,” he said.

master con artist

Sextortionists use a variety of tactics to target their victims and obtain sexually explicit images or videos. The methods are particularly effective in ensnaring unsuspecting youths.

One tactic is to post personal ads on platforms such as Craigslist or Reddit, where they pretend to be seeking intimacy in order to force victims to respond. Similar ploys include creating fake profiles on online dating sites like Tinder or Ashley Madison.

Another method employed by sex cyber criminals is to reach out directly to potential victims on social media such as Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat with fake profiles designed to match the target’s erotic interests.

While targeting potential victims, sextortionists send unwanted nude or explicit material to their targets via private message. In some cases, criminals may make immediate threats to the target’s friends or family in an attempt to obtain sexual material without prior rapport with the potential victim.

“Pornographic material is associated with less gray matter in the prefrontal cortex compared to baseline, and this strategy aims to reduce a target’s decision-making ability,” Kuglin said.

reap the benefits

The goal is to obtain sexually explicit material from the victim. The PRP then uses this as leverage to coerce the victim into providing more explicit material or complying with financial demands.

Threatening to share the images with the victim’s friends and family or to publicly post them online is a common threat. Sextortionists sometimes create websites dedicated to shaming a victim.

To increase the pressure on the victim, sextortionists often send screenshots of the victim’s friends list or other personal information to demonstrate their access to the victim’s social network.

“This can be an incredibly distressing experience, as it not only exposes their intimate material but also jeopardizes their reputation and personal relationships,” Kuglin said.

Local law enforcement are often ill-prepared

Kuglin said an unfortunate reality of the current predicament is that most local police precincts and municipalities have little training or equipment to properly track down or engage suspects in blackmail reports, given the timely nature of such cases. .

Since most cases of sextortion originate outside the United States, there is often little local police and officials can do to help victims.

“That said, starting a trail of documentation is still important because reports of sextortion can help with future legislation,” Kuglin urged.

Victims should file a report with local authorities and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). He advised that these steps will help document the seriousness of this online epidemic.

Help and advice for sextortion victims

If a minor is involved, contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). Take It Down is a free service provided by NCMEC that can help victims remove or prevent the online sharing of sexually explicit images or videos taken before the age of 18.

Above all else, according to Kuglin, victims should not comply with the blackmailer’s demands. Once a sextortionist has received money from a target, their threats always increase in volume because they are now certain of their effect on the victim.

Another response strategy is to reach out to a close friend or family member to help the sufferer cope with the emotional stress of this experience. He suggested to contact the team of experts of his company who have years of experience in solving such type of criminals.

“When a victim brings us a case of sexual abuse, the specialist assigned to the case will work quickly to assess the situation and develop a plan of action,” he added. This involves gathering evidence, such as chat logs or emails, and correspondence with a criminal by impersonating a customer and gathering evidence against the criminal.

“Our team also works with certain foreign law enforcement teams and other authorities to ensure that the perpetrator removes our customers’ content,” Kuglin said.

Digital Forensics handles the immediate threat and continues to monitor customer accounts to ensure they are always protected if they so choose. The company informs and educates customers so that this does not happen again.

“The most important thing is that we give them a chance to talk about what happened in a judgment-free space, which is huge for a lot of people,” he said.

how to avoid sextortion

The most effective way to avoid sextortion is to be clear, Kuglin quipped. never share nude or intimate photos online, especially With strangers, or better yet, not at all.

Recognize the red flags and manipulation techniques the sextortionist may use to try to get you to violate this commitment. Kuglin recommends these online best practices:

  • Be careful while chatting with strangers online: Avoid sharing personal information or explicit material, especially with someone you don’t know and trust.
  • Use privacy settings on social media: Adjust privacy settings on your social media accounts to limit who can see your posts and personal information.
  • Do not move the conversation to other platforms: Avoid moving the conversation to a more private forum, as this can make it easier for the sextortionist to control and exert pressure.
  • Report suspicious activity: If anyone makes threats or demands or behaves suspiciously, report it to the relevant authorities or the platform you are using.

It is important to note that these are only a few examples that sextortionists may use. They are constantly developing their methods to stay ahead of law enforcement and other authorities, making it easier for people to interact online. Time has become important to be alert and cautious.

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