The digital world has offered young people countless opportunities that their parents never imagined. Help kids stay in touch with each other during the pandemic. And now that the world is opening up again, the allure of the digital world remains undiminished. But his world Internet it also exposes children to dangers their parents never faced when they were young.
Τα τελευταία χρόνια παρατηρείται μια ανησυχητική αύξηση των υποθέσεων σεξουαλικού εκβιασμού (sextortion), συμπεριλαμβανομένων εκείνων aimed at teenagers, says digital security firm Phil Muncaster ESET. In 2021, the FBI recorded over 16.000 complaints in the first seven months of the year alone. Many more victims may be too embarrassed to come forward.
It's time for parents and guardians to become aware of the dangers their children face online and learn some best practice tips to limit them. But first let's understand what sexual blackmail (sextortion) is, what effects it has and how we can protect our children, emphasizes Phil.
What is sextortion?
As the name suggests, sextortion is a type of extortion where the perpetrator tricks or coerces the victim into sharing highly personal photos or videos and then threatens to release the material if the victim does not pay them or agree to send more photos or videos.
The last months, the FBI has issued multiple warnings on the increase in sextortion cases, where victims become online friends with people who hide their true identities and are then tricked into sending the fraudsters images or videos of a sexual nature. Victims were then pressured for more such material (or more money) or they would release the content to the victim's friends and family.
Worryingly, children and young adults are increasingly being targeted for extortion attacks – they are more gullible and therefore easier for attackers to trick. And in many cases, the latter specifically want to obtain provocative photos of minors for their own satisfaction.
It is a threat that can target both sexes. Although they exist many examples of extortionists targeting girls, the FBI also recently warned of a sharp rise in extortion incidents aimed at teenage boys.
What is the impact of sextortion?
It goes without saying that the prospect of nude photos or videos being released to friends and family can cause serious emotional and mental trauma to victims. Children who are assaulted are often ashamed or afraid to ask friends, parents or teachers for help. They may succumb to blackmail and thus actually dig a deeper hole as the attacker demands more photos or money.
Unfortunately, these incidents can in some cases have a tragic outcome:
- In 2016, the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) reported that at least four suicides had been linked to sex extortion cases, which it said had gone unreported.
- In May 2022, a 17-year-old boy killed himself after a cybercriminal tried to blackmail him out of thousands of dollars.
- In June 2022 something similar happened to another 17-year-old boy in Canada after he was approached on Snapchat.
- Just a few weeks ago, an American man was sentenced to 18 years in prison after he blackmailed a high school boy he had approached online to have sex with him three times and record the acts on video.
How can I protect my child from blackmail?
Such incidents will terrify most parents. But as tempting as it may be to try to limit internet use or access to certain websites, creating a climate of honesty and mutual trust at home will be more effective in the long run.
Parents and guardians must first understand the risks themselves and then share their knowledge with their children, emphasizes ESET's Muncaster. Two-way communication is essential. Young people need to feel that they can turn to their parents for help if they are involved in a case of sexual extortion.
If this happens, here is a short list of steps you can take with your child:
- Stop all communication with the blackmailer
- Don't cave in by giving money
- Save as much evidence as possible, including screenshots of messages or saved images
- Proceed with a complaint to the police and the relevant online platform
The good news is that if the blackmailer tried to share the content online, most reputable social networking sites have policies to take it down. And police action has an impact. Just a few weeks ago, the Interpol achieved a victory when he dismantled an extortion ring that had extorted approximately US$43.000 from its victims in Asia.
Prevention is better than cure
However, prevention is always the best course of action in these cases. Although most sextortion threats today involve social engineering rather than malware, it's worth taking steps to mitigate the threat from both. To help protect your child, talk to him about the risk and the simple steps he can take to avoid it. These include key steps such as:
- Be careful online: people are not always who they say they are
- Set your social media accounts from public to private
- Don't send videos or photos to someone you haven't met in real life
- Never share private photos or videos of yourself or anyone else – you have no control over what happens to the photos or videos afterwards
- Ignore messages from strangers and be wary of anyone trying to move the conversation to another platform – such attempts also happen to be one of the warning signs of a romance scam
- Talk to parents if you think you've been targeted
At the same time, there is never an inappropriate time to remind them of the importance of usage strong and unique passwords, using reliable security software and avoiding clicking on links or downloading attachments in spam messages.