Last week, major TV news outlets carried stories that introduced a new word to many viewers. Sextortion is the process of tricking victims into sending compromising photos and then using blackmail methods to get more photos, sexual favors, or money from the victims. The U.S. Department of Justice's April 2016 report to Congress listed sextortion as "by far the most significantly growing threat to children."
That report also noted that the vast majority of the victims were females under the age of 18. The crimes were conducted using social networking sites, instant messaging, and email. The convicted perpetrators--so far, all male--have
- Gained the trust of the victims by pretending to be a modeling agent or a boyfriend/girlfriend, thus obtaining compromising photos or video.
- Stolen a device that contains photos and videos of a personal nature.
- Hacked into a victim's webcam and recorded images of her most intimate moments without her knowing it.
Another Justice Department report noted that offenders were specifically seeking out those children they considered easy targets because of their demonstrated willingness to post personal content online and engage in live-streaming video activity, whether the content was sexually explicit or not.”
One news outlet included suggestions for protecting against this developing threat:
- Watch for changing behavior. Victims often withdraw from family members and demonstrate anxiety, bullying, and increased dropout rates and suicide risk.
- Supervise computer and mobile device usage. Teenagers often have impulse control issues because their brains are not fully developed; they also struggle with anticipating the consequences of their actions. Knowing that you have their passwords and can login to their accounts may make them think twice about engaging in risky activities.
- Have that discussion. An age-appropriate talk with your children about the dangers of communicating with unknown people and sending photos can go a long way. Make sure your children know that you are interested in their safety and that they can come to you without fear of reprisal, no matter what they have done.
- Layer security. Use and teach the safety recommendations we've posted on this blog about opening attachments and using anti-malware software, but don't assume technology alone will protect you.
- Turn off the computer when it is not in use.
- Cover webcams with a removable sticker when you are not using them.
- Don't open email or message attachments if you don't know the sender.
- If you or someone you know is a victim, tell your parents and report it to the FBI. It's a toll-free call to 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324).