USA – Email ‘Sextortion’ Scams on the Rise

Cybersecurity giant reports a sharp rise in email ‘sextortion’ scams since the beginning of 2019.

An email scam has been with us for decades. They have become more elaborate, and despite raised awareness of internet users, who have been aware of notorious email scams (like the infamous ‘Nigerian Prince’ scam) for years, are surprisingly effective. Email scams in which criminals attempt to extort money from their victims by threatening to reveal embarrassing information or pictures of them have been on a sharp rise.

In a recent report, Cybersecurity Company Symantec reported it has blocked approximately 290 million scam emails, the majority of which were identified as ‘sextortion’ emails, in the first five months of 2019 alone. Of the 290 million emails blocked, almost 30% of the ‘sextortion’ attempts were made in the two week period prior to Valentine’s Day, when emotions run high and victims and their loved ones are exceptionally vulnerable to extortion attempts.  

Email ‘Sextortion’ Scams – Finleaks

Sextortion is an email scam where the victims are contacted by the criminals who inform them they have obtained compromising pictures of them – usually claiming they have hacked their webcams and recorded the victims performing sexual acts. The criminals follow by demanding a specified amount would be transferred to them in cryptocurrency or else the alleged compromising recordings they claim to have in their possession will be sent to every single contact in their address book. In order to urge the victims to act, sextortion demands usually insist on the victim paying the extortion money within 48 hours of opening the email or less.

Most of the ‘sextortion’ mails follow similar patterns and are therefore considered reasonably easy to pull off. Due to the nature of these scams, the sums received are considered extremely high in the world of email scamming. According to the report, ‘sextortion’ email scams generate more than $1.2M annually in the USA alone.   

Traditionally, ‘sextortion’ has been used to defraud individuals, however, in some instances, the report shows that key figures in big corporations have been targeted in an attempt to extort commercial information and insight.

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