Delaware woman accused in sextortion plot to blackmail $6M from victims in US and UK

Young men and minors thought they were speaking to attractive women, before the blackmail began

Dan Gooding
Friday 12 April 2024 21:42 BST
Teenage boys and young men have been targeted by an international sextortion plot (Stock image)
Teenage boys and young men have been targeted by an international sextortion plot (Stock image) (Getty Images)

A group including a woman from Delaware are accused of trying to blackmail young men and boys out of millions of dollars, after posing as young women and filming the victims engaging in sexual acts online.

The US Department of Justice announced Friday that Hadja Kone, 28, from Wilmington, had been arrested over her alleged role in the so-called sextortion scheme.

Ms Kone and other co-conspirators are accused of operating “an international, financially motivated” scheme which included cyberstalking, money laundering and wire fraud.

The group successfully blackmailed some of the thousands of victims across the United States, United Kingdom and Canada out of $1.7 million, but the goal was $6 million, the DOJ said.

According to charging documents, Ms Kone and others, including Siaka Ouattara - a 22-year-old in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire - posed as young, attractive females online.

They promised their victims sexual photos, videos or live webcam sessions, even though they were the ones operating the accounts.

Then, when the victims either exposed their genitals or performed other sexual activity, Ms Kone and others allegedly secretly filmed them.

Victims were then sent copies of those images or videos, with threats that they would be sent to the victim’s friends, family or employers, as well as being shared widely on the internet, unless they handed over money.

The DOJ alleges that Kone, Ouattara and others had a framework in place to launder the cash to people in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere overseas.

Victims are often targeted through social media, according to the FBI (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Ouattara was arrested in February on similar charges, with authorities in Côte d’Ivoire working with the FBI on the case.

Both are charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and to send interstate threats, conspiracy to engage in money laundering, money laundering, and wire fraud. If convicted, they face up to 20 years for each count.

In 2022, the FBI warned that sextortion cases affecting teenage boys had risen sharply, with some 3,000 reported victims that year alone.

Most victims were aged between 14 and 17, but could be as young as 10, the agency said.

One of those victims was Jordan DeMay, a 17-year-old in Michigan who took his own life after he was blackmailed by Nigerian men posing as a woman. They blackmailed him for $1,000.

The boy only had $300 and was subjected to continued threats before he ended his life.

According to the FBI’s 2022 report, Jordan is not alone in feeling like this was his only option.

“Victims may feel like there is no way out—it is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a statement at the time.

With much of this type of crime taking place on social media, Instagram owner Meta announced this week that it will test a nudity screening tool in its messaging apps.

The change would automatically blur nude photos for those under 18, with messages from the app reminding users they should not feel pressure to respond in kind.

The option to message users who are under-age will also be removed for suspicious profiles, the company said.

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