Detectives of the Major Crimes Division are seeing a trend in an unsavory type of financial scam. Sexual extortion scams, commonly referred to as “sextortion,” involve meeting someone you believe is a real, genuine person online and quickly coaxes you into feeling a sense of connection and intimacy. They get you to share inappropriate photos or video of yourself, then threaten to post the photos publicly if you do not pay them money. The user profile is often a sham and the scammers often operate from outside of the United States. Their goal is to intimidate you, through embarrassment and fear, into sending them money.
Investigation has determined in the majority of these cases, the scammers create fake accounts on a variety of social media avenues, ranging from sites such as Facebook to Skype to Coffee Meets Bagel. In all of the cases, the phony profile user initiates a friend request or contact with a potential victim. If they accept, online conversation begins through direct messaging and the unsuspecting victim believes they are getting to know a real person. As the bogus relationship develops, the scammer encourages the victim to share sexually explicit photos or video of themselves. Later, the scammer threatens to publicly share the imagery online or with the victim’s family and friends if they do not pay them money.
Detectives have determined in many cases, the scammers create fake accounts and user profiles and operate from outside of the United States. A victim may believe he or she is watching a live video of someone, but detectives believe that the scammers are showing video and photos pulled from the Internet.
So far in 2016, there have been 14 incidents of this nature reported to police. The victims’ ages range from 16 to 58; in 11 of the 14 cases, the victims were men. In 2015, there were 14 “sextortion” cases; victims ranged from 17 to 56 years old and 12 of the 14 victims were men.
Whether you’re single and dating online or just enjoy browsing your social media site, chatting with friends and virtually making new ones, police remind everyone to employ great caution when talking to anyone who’s a stranger or unfamiliar to you:
- Do not share photos or video of yourself with anyone you have never met in person; even then, do not share explicit imagery online, particularly with someone you’ve only known a short time.
- Be extremely cautious about strangers online who friend you or initiate contact. Fake profiles are easy to create.
- Never share personal information with anyone you meet online. You have no idea who they are or if they are even real. Scammers often use photos and names pulled from the Internet to fool you.
- Never send photos or video of yourself to anyone online. Once you hit send, you have zero control over what happens to those images.
- Scammers go to great lengths to make you believe their profile is that of a real person, one who’s interested in you. Facebook accounts may have photos and posts dated back one or two years; when you research the names or websites used by scammers, you may find information or a web page that looks credible; in reality, it might be completely forged.
- Often, scammers originate from outside the U.S. and they constantly create and discard phony user profiles, e-mails and contacts, making it nearly impossible to determine their true identities.
- Never send money to someone you met online. Scammers employ countless excuses to pull on your heart strings and take your money. Stories range from sick children in need of medical care to having been hired with the purpose of extorting victims (but if the victim pays them more, they will stop).
Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Solvers by phone at 1-866-411-TIPS/8477, e-mail at www.fairfaxcrimesolvers.org or text “TIP187” plus your message to CRIMES/274637 or call Fairfax County Police at 703-691-2131.