As time goes on, scammers are becoming smarter and smarter. Unfortunately, this means that scams are becoming more targeted, and much more threatening in tone, such as the latest wave of sextortion email scams. While we may not fall for every scam that lands in our inbox nowadays, emails that contain our personal details are worrying enough to give even the most scam-savvy person a fright.
What Are Sextortion Email Scams?
Sextortion email scams, like many others, are trying to get your money. There’s been two major forms of these scams doing the rounds, so it’s best you’re prepared if one of these finds its way into your inbox. In the first, scammers will say they have hacked your webcam and have compromising videos or photos of you in intimate acts, and then demand that you send them money within a set timeframe. If you don’t, they claim they’ll share the material with your contacts list.
The second common trick they might pull involves the scammers pretending to be CIA agents or law enforcement. They’ll say that you have child pornography on your device and that they’re willing to overlook the criminal charges if you send them money, most often as Bitcoin. It’s easy to get a scare from an email like this, as these are severe allegations you would want to set straight. Although it may seem real, actual law enforcement officers will never approach you online for such severe charges. If no one is showing up at your door, the hacker has nothing to pin on you.
If the email gets past your spam folder, you might see some of your personal info, such as old passwords, in the subject line. The scammers do this so that you’ll fall deeper into their story – in most cases, they found the phone number or password online from one of several recent data dumps. No matter what personal info they have, it’s important to remember that it’s still a scam.
So, You’ve Got The Email, What’s Next?
Always follow the golden rule when being on the lookout for scams: don’t click any links or attachments. If there is a PDF attached, it’s most likely just the scammer’s Bitcoin or banking details, as most providers will automatically block emails with a Bitcoin wallet address when it’s in normal text. Even if opening that file may seem harmless, you could be infecting your computer with some serious malware. Don’t be surprised if it looks like the email has been sent from your own email address. This is a common spoofing tactic, and it’s relatively easy for hackers to pull off. In the worst cases, this trick can actually put the alleged pornographic material onto your device.
One of the best actions you can take upon receiving a sextortion email scam is to change all of your passwords. Increasing the strength of your passwords every so often, and especially after data breaches where you might have been affected, ups the security on your accounts. Old passwords are going to be useless to hackers, so take the time to be cyber-safe and protect yourself from internet scams.
Some emails may also contain a few of the contacts in your address book, used as more ‘proof’ that the scammers have your personal data. In reality, names and phone numbers can be very easy to find thanks to modern social media. If the scammers can find you on Facebook, they’ll be able to see your friends list, and subsequently, any data that they have published online. Reconsider your privacy settings to combat this. Keep your account private, so only your accepted friends can see info you post, and keep things like phone numbers, physical addresses, and email addresses off your wall.
As always, don’t hesitate to report sextortion scam emails to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.