The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning the public about sextortion emails from scammers, which try to blackmail recipients into giving them money.
In a release, the BBB said these types of 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.”
The increase in this type of scam is “believed to be due to scammers getting access to legitimate usernames and passwords that were exposed during major security breaches.”
How the scam works:
According to the BBB, the scammer will contact people whether or not they visited pornographic sites and claim they have hacked their computer and activated their webcam. They will then claim that they have been able to access all the porn sites the victim has visited. The scammer then threatens 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 fails to include personal information or any other details that hackers could use to increase their credibility,” said the BBB.
However, “there are cases where the victims are specifically targeted because their data was compromised in a major security breach some time ago, which exposed details for billions of users.”
In those situations, “the scammer may have your email, telephone number and at least one password, and will refer to it in the email.”
And it’s because the scammers are using real information that “the email sounds more threatening and convincing.
The BBB said that recent submissions to its scam tracker from members of the public indicate that the scammers want payments in bitcoin – “a virtual currency that is very difficult to trace.”
According to the BBB, one of these cases involved Burnaby senior who said scammers demanded he pay $1,700 in bitcoin, or the scammer would send a “porno picture” to the man’s friends.
“It is so terrifying,” another person who received the email told Daily Hive, adding that they sat there “for the longest time” telling themselves the email was a scam.
“But then I was like, ‘what if it’s not?'”
In the end, the person said they ultimately deleted the email and no money was lost.
Hackers “getting bolder”
Scams like these show that “hackers are getting bolder and smarter,” said BBB spokesperson Karla Davis.
And the problem isn’t just confined to senior victims.
“The truth is that everyone is at risk of getting a sextortion email,” she said. “Scammers will happily play on a person’s emotions to trick them out of their money.”
And unfortunately, the threat of embarrassing footage being released “can trigger the need for self preservation, even if it comes at a cost of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.”
In light of these cases, the BBB is sharing various tips to help people protect themselves from sextortion and scams:
- Never send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are—or who they say they are;
- Try searching the web for one or two sentences from the email to confirm it is actually spam;
- No matter what the email threatens, do not respond. Also delete the email;
- Do not open attachments or click links in emails from people you do not know;
- Never send money, buy a gift card or do anything to comply with the demands in the email;
- Do a security check on your computer and install security software.
- Enable two-factor authentication on your important accounts;
- Change passwords often and consider getting a password manager to ensure your passwords are strong and unique.
Keep webcams covered when you are not using them;
- Check to see if your email was compromised in a security breach.
Some red flags that can point to a potential sextortion can be observed when the scammer:
- Does not provide any details about what site you supposedly visited;
- Cannot support their threat with any evidence;
- Requests an urgent ransom be paid in gift cards, bitcoins or wire transfer.