UK-based Kent Police have been warning residents of an increase in online blackmail. According to the force, residents have come under increasing attack from criminals running ‘sextortion’ scams with reported incidents up by 88% over the last three years.

What is sextortion? The phishing email scam

Sextortion is very similar to other phishing attacks. In one variation, a victim will receive an email warning that their computer has been hacked. The message will go on to explain that the victim has been recorded visiting porn websites and masturbating. If the specified ransom is not paid, the video will be sent to all of the victim’s contacts, including family, friends and work colleagues.

To make the message even more convincing, the hackers will often include one of the victim’s passwords.

What is sextortion? The honeypot trap

In another variation, the victim – typically male – will be contacted by an attractive young woman on Instagram or other social network. After exchanging messages, the “woman” will share a video of herself performing a sex act – the man will then encouraged to send one of his own.

Once the video has been sent, the victim will receive another message, this time threatening to publish the video online where anyone – including friends and family – may see it. To stop this happening, the victim must pay a Bitcoin ransom.

Ultimately, the overall goal of both sextortion methods is to blackmail victims into paying money to protect their privacy.

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Don’t pay the ransom

Like any online scam, police advise against paying ransoms. Once the scammers have identified a victim willing to pay, they will keep coming back for more.

So will your secrets be exposed? If you receive a phishing-type email, don’t panic – it’s extremely likely that this is part of a massive mailshot targeting thousands of people at once. If the message does contain your password, it is most likely to have come from an old data breach rather than a direct hacking of your computer. You can probably delete the email and forget all about it.

If you have traded compromising videos as part of a honeytrap scam, the issue is a bit more complicated. Exposing sensitive personal material without permission is a criminal offence. If you believe that your video may be published, you should report the incident to police – don’t forget to collect evidence of messages and threats that the scammers may have sent you.

If you have paid a ransom under either scam, you should also report the matter. Police are aware that these crimes are happening regularly and are keen to emphasise that any report will be handled sensitively and in confidence.

It is also worth knowing that if you become a victim of sextortion, you are not alone. The Scam Survivors group brings together victims to provide support – and to help them understand what to do next.

For more tips on how to protect yourself against sextortion, take a look at our article Sextortion attacks are on the rise in the UK