Better Business Bureau (BBB) finds itself again warning the public about sextortion emails from scammers trying to blackmail recipients into giving them money. Sextortion emails typically include threats to reveal images and videos of the victim watching or utilizing pornography, copies of their browser history or evidence that they downloaded videos from pornographic sites.
BBBs nationwide, including here in Virginia, received 32 reports of this scam in April 2020. More have cropped up so far in May as well. The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov) also recently reported an uptick in online extortion scams during the stay-at-home orders issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic. With more people staying at home and likely using their phone, computer or tablet, con artists are using this opportunity to their advantage in hopes of getting money from you.
“This is nothing more than attempted blackmail by criminals,” said Barry N. Moore, President & CEO of the BBB serving Central Virginia.
How the scam works:
The scammers will contact anyone – whether or not the victim has actually visited pornographic sites. They’ll claim to have hacked your computer, activated your webcam, and videoed you while you watched pornography. They’ll tell you they have been able to access all the pornographic websites you have visited and threaten to send embarrassing images, videos and screenshots to stolen contacts, family, friends and co-workers if a payment is not made.
Generally speaking, the threat is likely an empty one, because the blackmail message usually doesn’t have enough personal information to make their scheme plausible. However, there are some cases where the victims are specifically targeted because their data was compromised in a major security breach some time ago. In those situations, the scammer may have your email, telephone number and at least one password, and will refer to it in the email. By using real information, the scammer’s email sounds more threatening and convincing.
Recent submissions to BBB Scam Tracker state that the criminals want to be paid in bitcoin, a virtual currency that is very difficult to trace.
One consumer in Richmond, VA, recently said he’d gotten one of these email blackmail attempts. The blackmailer said they had some of his personal contact information, including his videos lease record, to make it sound convincing. Another said she became scared when they threatened releasing her personal contact information along with a false list of X-rated movies, she supposedly rented via a web service. Both potential victims were told that if they electronically sent money via high dollar gift cards or bitcoin, that the information wouldn’t be released. Neither paid anything to the blackmailers.
Another consumer in Memphis, TN, recently reported to BBB that she’d received a total of 5 emails over the past week demanding $2000 in bitcoins. “They used one of my passwords in the subject line and…