Scammers carrying out sextortion cybercrimes during coronavirus crisis

UK's national reporting service for fraud received 9,473 reports of a sextortion fraudulent phishing racket 

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Thursday 23 April 2020 17:56 BST
Police launch 'sextortion' video to fight online crime

Scammers are carrying out sextortion cybercrimes during the coronavirus lockdown which involve blackmailing victims into sending payments.

Sextortion is a lesser-known type of online harassment which involves perpetrators threatening to use personal intimate images or footage to force the victim into complying with their demands.

Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting service for fraud and financially-motivated cybercrime, has received 9,473 reports of a sextortion fraudulent phishing racket in April alone with 200 reports made in the last week.

Phishing refers to sending out emails which falsely claim to come from established firms in a bid to trick people into mistakenly divulging private information like passwords or credit card details.

The fraudulent phishing racket which involves sextortion was first spotted by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau in July 2018 but carries on being reported to Action Fraud in large numbers.

The email urges the victim to send a Bitcoin payment in order to stop footage of themselves visiting adult sites on their own computer being distributed online. It also has the victim’s password included in the email’s subject line.

Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said: “Sextortion scams are a type of phishing attack where people are coerced to pay a ransom, normally in Bitcoin. The messages can look particularly convincing because they often include the recipient’s genuine password.

“The criminals sending these emails are ruthless, unscrupulous individuals who don’t care about the impact of their actions on victims. They seek to exploit people’s emotions – shaming and scaring the recipient enough, that they make a payment.

“If you receive an email that threatens you, your family, or your property in any way, and asks you to make a Bitcoin payment, don’t take the bait.”

The agency urges recipients of the email not to reply to it or click on any links it may include and instead flag it to before then going on to delete it.

“Do not be tempted to make the Bitcoin payment,” it adds. “Doing so may encourage the criminal to contact you again for more money. If you have made the Bitcoin payment, then report it to your local police force by calling 101. For more information, visit:”

“It Seems that, XXXXXX, is your password,” an example email says. “I require your complete attention for the upcoming 24 hrs, or I may make sure you that you live out of guilt for the rest of your lifetime.”

The message adds: “Hey, you do not know me personally. However I know all the things concerning you. Your present fb contact list, mobile phone contacts along with all the digital activity in your computer from past 176 days.

“Which includes, your self-pleasure video footage, which brings me to the main motive why I’m composing this particular mail to you. Well the last time you went to see the porn material websites, my malware ended up being activated inside your computer which ended up documenting a beautiful footage of your self-pleasure play by activating your cam. (you got a unquestionably weird taste by the way haha)

“I have the full recording. If, perhaps you think I am playing around, simply reply proof and I will be forwarding the particular recording randomly to eight people you know.”

Researchers at Michigan State University recently warned the cybercrime of sextortion poses a growing threat to both adults and children.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, said women and children make up the majority of the victims of the crime and argued authorities focus on the dissemination of revenge porn obscures the neglected phenomenon of sextortion.

Roberta Liggett O’Malley, the study’s co-author, said: “Sextortion is the use of intimate images or videos that have been captured to then extort compliance from a victim. What makes it different from any other crime is the threat to release. A perpetrator could say, ‘I have these images of you and will publish them unless you...’ to get more images or even in exchange for money.”

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