JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA, –
“Hey! What’s up?” “Hot profile pic! Want to chat?” You may have received similar messages from an unknown person on your phone and, if you haven’t, there is a real possibility you will. However, responding to such messages by sending “personal” pictures to this unknown person may be setting yourself up for heartache and, potentially, sextortion. Although there is no legal definition for sextortion, the cybercrime is becoming increasingly common. Because of its serious nature, sextortion is being prosecuted under other state and federal laws, such as stalking, extortion and computer fraud.
Sextortion occurs when a perpetrator seduces a victim into engaging in online sexual activities and then threatens to use those activities against the victim. For instance, the perpetrator and victim could be exchanging explicit photos or videos with each other. Typically, the threats are to expose the private material unless the victim provides sexual favors, pays a specific sum of money or continues providing the perpetrator with the images of sexual nature. Texting and social media are two common ways for individuals to fall victim to sextortion. An additional concern is the cyber security issue of a perpetrator hacking into an individual’s computer. For military members, it is important to be aware of how texting and social media can be platforms that introduce the threat of sextortion.
The phrase, “Don’t say or do anything you wouldn’t want posted on the front page of the newspaper,” applies to social media as well. Do not send anything via text, or other forms of messaging, that could be embarrassing or illegal. Most of us have heard it is wise to think before we act. The crime of sextortion can be prevented, especially since the potential victim must participate. Stop and think before acting.
Awareness is key. To protect yourself and others from being exposed to sextortion, be aware of the warning signs and maintain a sense of situational awareness both on and offline. For instance, if a service member receives a random friend request on Facebook, he or she should exercise caution. Commonly, sextortion scenarios begin with a friend request followed up by messages progressing to an exchange of photos and/or videos. When the photos or videos become explicit however, the risk of sextortion increases. Typically, the perpetrator will reveal to the service member that he or she is either underage or looking for some type payment in exchange of keeping the photos private. The perpetrator will usually threaten the victim with the possibility of sending the photos and/or videos to the victim’s family, friends or command. Remember, once messages or videos are sent, they are no longer private or under your control.
Because service members are often separated from family members, have a high standard of conduct and a steady income, they are attractive targets for sextortion. Perpetrators use this information to wield power over an individual including threatening to harm or end a victim’s career.
Sextortion is a growing concern. If you suspect you are being targeted, immediately discontinue any and all types of communication with the perpetrator. Contact your command and your local AFOSI office. Even if you have already sent private material, do not submit any payment to the perpetrator because the perpetrator often times will demand additional money. Also, save all communications and messages with the perpetrator. Ultimately, refrain from engaging in sexually explicit activities online or through text messaging. This includes exchanging explicit photos or videos or performing sexual acts over webcams, which can be recorded. When you receive a friend request from someone you do not know, exercise caution and trust your instincts. Do not mistake sextortion for a chance to “hook up” with someone new and “mysterious.