Sextortion: what you should know of this new email scam

Sextortion, yes that is correct, is a new twist on an old email scam in which the scammer has indicated that they have compromised you by accessing your computer via malware and recorded you or your household members in an intimate setting.

They may threaten to have the video they made of you uploaded to the porn site. Or they may claim you or someone else in your house accessed porn site (even if you didn’t, they hope you have doubts about your housemates). The attacker then threatens to release the video to all your contacts unless you pay a Bitcoin ransom. The new twist is that the scam email references a real password previously tied to your email address.

The basic elements of this sextortion scam email have been around for some time, and usually, the only thing that changes with this particular message is the Bitcoin address that frightened targets can use to pay the amount demanded. But this new scam begins with an unusual opening:

I’m aware that <“your password”> is your password

The rest is from a standard template:

sextortion email template example screenshot

Typically, the password referenced in the scam email was associated with your email account (or another online account) that was ascertained by the scammer via databases of credentials that have been part of a data breach.

The FBI suspects that as this scam gets refined perpetrators will begin using more recent and relevant passwords to convince people that the hacking threat is real.

Sextortion, even semi-automated scams like this one with no actual physical leverage to backstop the extortion demand, is a serious crime that can lead to devastating consequences for victims. Sextortion occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them with images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.

According to the FBI, here are some things you can do to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Keep your web camera option disabled on the computer when not using (it may be accessed for recording).
  • Never send private images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are — or who they say they are.
  • Don’t open attachments from senders you don’t know.
  • Be cautions of opening attachments even from those you do know (those may be phishing emails)

The FBI says in many sextortion cases, the cybercriminal may be an adult pretending to be a teenager, and you are just one of the many victims being targeted by the same person. If you believe you’re a victim of sextortion, or know someone else who is, the FBI wants to hear from you: Contact your local FBI office (or toll-free at 1-800-CALL-FBI).

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