Investigators: Sextortion scams on the rise in the Mid-South

Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 9:50 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Being blackmailed for money because of your browsing habits is called sextortion.

The FBI has issued a warning because the problem is so bad in the U.S.

”The reason this one caught my eye is because it actually had my password in it,” said criminal justice professor Dr. Cindy Boyles.

She received a sextortion email with her New York Times password in the subject line.

”This person was very aggressive and I kind of thought for a minute, should I pay this?” Boyles said.

The email said they had Boyle’s password and used it to hack her computer, then activated her webcam as she supposedly surfed pornographic websites.

”I also have video of you watching porn, and if you don’t pay, and it had a specific date, if you don’t pay $1,900 in Bitcoin by this date, then I will release the video of you to all of your contacts,” Boyles recalled the email saying.

”Anytime there’s a major data breach, usually months after that data breach we see an uptick in this particular scam because they’ve stolen passwords,” explained Daniel Irwin with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of the Mid-South. “And, again, passwords are what they use in the subject line to make this story more believable.”

Irwin said sextortion scams are happening so often now. The FBI issued a warning in September.

There have been 16,000 complaints so far this year with victims out more than $8 million.

Irwin said most of the time, the scammers are bluffing.

”No matter what the email threatens, do not respond and then delete the email. Don’t click on any links,” Irwin warned.

Here are samples of sextortion emails sent to Mid-South victims:

“I need your total attention or I will make sure you live out of shame for the rest of your life.”

“I have access to your devices...your data, photos, camera and microphone. I found out you are a huge fan of websites for adults.”

“My spyware in your computer ended up saving a beautiful video of your self-pleasure by triggering your webcam.”

The scammers then request a modest consulting fee of $1,650 U.S. dollars transferred in Bitcoin to keep the victim’s alleged sexy secrets safe.

”We know that you went to porn sites. And I’m thinking, ok not me,” said scam victim Linda Wamble.

Wamble received three sextortion emails.

The 73-year-old Bartlett grandmother wasted no time reporting it to the BBB Scam Tracker website.

”I thought, my gracious, if they’ve got my password, they’ve gotten in so far,” Wamble said. What else can they do?”

Red flags to identify sextortion scams include the following:

  • The scammer can’t provide any details about the websites they accuse you of visiting.
  • Blackmail payment is always requested in gift cards, Bitcoin, or wire transfer.
  • The email contains broken English and grammatical errors since many of these scams originate overseas.

”You know, the part about we have video of you watching porn, that didn’t concern me at all because I know the only way they have video of me watching porn is if they made it up,” said Boyles.

Boyles was more worried about her compromised password.

The BBB’s advice:

  • Don’t open email attachments or links from people you don’t know.
  • Do a security check on your computer and install security software.
  • Change your passwords and do it often.
  • Report the crime to the BBB to warn others.

”I thought, you know, my complaint probably won’t amount to anything. But maybe there’s other people that also received the same email and maybe they’ll complain, and maybe all of us together can do something,” Boyles said.

”Maybe save someone else the embarrassment of reading the emails and the fear of what are they going to do with my accounts,” said Wamble.

The BBB said another popular sextortion ploy is the romance scam.

Someone gains your trust online and convinces you to send racy pics or share intimate details. They turn around and threaten to post those photos on the world wide web if you don’t pay up.

Remember, what you send out today can come back to hurt you tomorrow.

Copyright 2021 WMC. All rights reserved.

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