For-profit companies allegedly linked to sextortion activities target victims using various deceptive tactics to trick them into paying for free “help desk” services provided by non-profits and law enforcement agencies, notify the FBI.
Sextortion is a digital extortion scheme in which criminals use phishing emails or fake social media profiles to trick potential victims into sharing explicit videos or images that are later used for blackmail.
To increase fear among victims, perpetrators often have access to their social networks or contact details. They use this access to threaten victims that the explicit material will be sent to their families and friends.
In a Message of public interest released on Friday, the FBI said these companies use a wide range of methods, from threats and manipulation to providing victims with false information, to persuade victims of sextortion to pay exorbitant fees for their assistance.
“For-profit companies may take advantage of victims’ desperation for help and potential feelings of fear or shame that can result from sextortion,” the FBI warned.
While these for-profit companies offer to send and bill cease-and-desist orders to the criminals behind the schemes, the FBI says these “services” are not legally enforceable.
Additionally, these companies may also discourage victims from contacting law enforcement and reporting attempted sextortion, and they may also be “directly or indirectly involved in the sextortion activity.”
The FBI urges victims to seek help from law enforcement and nonprofit organizations that provide support at no cost.
The federal law enforcement agency also shared several examples highlighting tactics used to mislead victims of sextortion into paying for assistance:
- A company sought multiple payments totaling $5,000 from a victim of child sextortion after coercing the victim with reputational threats, falsely stating that the victim would not be able to attend college or find a job and the victim’s parents would lose their jobs. The victim contacted the company for help after being sextorted via social media.
- A young victim of sextortion contacted and hired a company for $2,000. When the victim refused to pay for additional services, the company told the victim that the sextortor had asked for $5,000. At that time, the victim paid for the additional services, for which the company charged him an additional $3,200.
- A company representative contacted the mother of a child sextortion victim and offered to locate the sextortionist in exchange for $1,500. The representative also discouraged the victim’s mother from seeking help from law enforcement. It was unclear how the company representative knew about the sextortion or how he obtained contact information for the victim’s mother.
The FBI also warned a year ago of a massive increase in sextortion complaints since the beginning of 2021, revealing in its annual internet crime report that more than 18,000 sextortion-related complaints were filed by Americans in 2021, representing more than $13.6 million in losses.
Victims are advised to stop interacting with criminals, contact law enforcement immediately, and file a complaint with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov.
Today, the FBI also provided the following list of indicators that victims of sextortion should look out for when approached with offers of “helping out” services:
- A Company representative contacts you and offers support services for which the Company charges a fee;
- Company advertises sextortion assistance in exchange for fee;
- You are required to pay the fees before the support services are rendered;
- The company asks you to sign a contract for its services;
- The company representative discourages you from contacting law enforcement or tells you that contacting law enforcement is not the best way to get help;
- The company uses pressure or scare tactics in an effort to secure your business; Or
- The for-profit company claims to be linked to government or law enforcement officials.