For-profit companies reportedly linked to sextortion activity are targeting victims using various deceptive tactics to pressure them into paying for “assistance” services provided by non-profit agencies and law enforcement for free, the FBI warns.
Sextortion is a digital extortion scheme where criminals use phishing emails or fake social media profiles to deceive potential victims into sharing explicit videos or images later used for blackmail.
To increase fear among victims, perpetrators also often gain access to their social media or contact information. They use this access to threaten the victims that the explicit material will be sent to their families and friends.
In a public service announcement published on Friday, the FBI said that such companies use a wide range of methods, from threats and manipulation to feeding the victims false information, to persuade sextortion victims into paying exorbitant fees for their help.
“For-profit companies can take advantage of victims’ desperation for assistance and potential feelings of fear or shame that may result from the sextortion,” the FBI warned.
While these for-profit companies offer to send and charge for cease and desist orders to the criminals behind the schemes, the FBI says these “services” are not legally enforceable.
Moreover, these companies may also discourage victims from contacting law enforcement and reporting the sextortion attempts, and they might also be “directly or indirectly involved in the sextortion activity.”
The FBI urges victims to seek assistance from law enforcement and non-profit agencies that provide support at no cost.
The federal law enforcement agency also shared several examples highlighting the tactics used to mislead sextortion victims to pay for assistance:
- A company solicited multiple payments totaling $5,000 from a juvenile sextortion victim after coercing the victim with threats of reputational harm, falsely indicating the victim would be unable to go to college or get 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 juvenile sextortion victim contacted and hired a company for $2,000. When the victim declined to pay for additional services, the company told the victim the sextortion perpetrator asked for $5,000. At that point, 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 juvenile sextortion victim and offered to locate the sextortionist in exchange for $1,500. The representative also discouraged the victim’s mother from seeking assistance from law enforcement. It was not clear how the company representative knew about the sextortion or how they obtained the contact information for the victim’s mother.
In September, Interpol dismantled a transnational sextortion ring following an alert issued last June regarding a sharp rise in sextortion reports.
The FBI also warned one year before of a massive increase in sextortion complaints since the start of 2021, revealing in its annual Internet Crime Report that more than 18,000 sextortion-related complaints had been filed by Americans in 2021, amounting to over $13.6 million in losses.
Victims are advised to stop interacting with the criminals, immediately contact law enforcement, 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 sextortion victims should watch for when being approached with offers of “assistance” services:
- A company representative contacts you and offers assistance services for which the company charges fees;
- The company advertises sextortion assistance in exchange for fees;
- You are asked to pay the fees before the assistance services are rendered;
- The company requires you to sign a contract for their services;
- The company representative discourages you from contacting law enforcement or tells you contacting law enforcement is not the best way to get help;
- The company uses high-pressure or scare tactics in an effort to secure your business; or
- The for-profit company claims to be connected to government or law enforcement officials.