Sextortion can turn someone’s life upside down, but many victims find themselves targeted by yet another scheme — for-profit companies that promise to help but provide little in return, the FBI says.
Some of these perpetrators of “assistance” fraud might even be involved in the original sextortion attempt, the bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) said in an alert Friday. The IC3 warned that the businesses prey upon the emotional factors of sextortion — a form of blackmail in which the perpetrator obtains private files, such as explicit photos, and threatens to share them publicly unless a payment is made.
“The companies use deceptive tactics—including threats, manipulation, and providing false information—to coerce sextortion victims into paying for their services,” the alert said. “Some of the services for which the companies charge fees, such as sending the perpetrators cease and desist orders, make victims feel better but are not legally enforceable.”
Some of the businesses discourage victims from reporting their cases to law enforcement, the IC3 said. In those instances, there’s a good chance the company could be associated with the original blackmail attempt, the alert said.
The alert cites several examples of victims being charged $1,500 to $5,000 for services that ultimately amounted to more harassment on top of the original sextortion effort.
“The FBI recommends sextortion victims contact law enforcement and non-profit agencies who assist sextortion victims at no charge,” the IC3 said. “For-profit companies can take advantage of victims’ desperation for assistance and potential feelings of fear or shame that may result from the sextortion.”
The Federal Trade Commission said in February that reports of sextortion — tracked as a subset of the broader category of romance scams — “have increased more than eightfold since 2019.”
The FBI said in December that it had received 7,000 reports of sextortion in 2022, with many of the schemes originating outside the United States.
Joe Warminsky is the news editor for Recorded Future News. He has more than 25 years experience as an editor and writer in the Washington, D.C., area. Most recently he helped lead CyberScoop for more than five years. Prior to that, he was a digital editor at WAMU 88.5, the NPR affiliate in Washington, and he spent more than a decade editing coverage of Congress for CQ Roll Call.
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