FBI: Americans lost more than $8 million to sextortion scams this year
Image: Kelly Sikkema, The Record
Catalin Cimpanu September 2, 2021

FBI: Americans lost more than $8 million to sextortion scams this year

FBI: Americans lost more than $8 million to sextortion scams this year

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation said today that Americans lost more than $8 million to sextortion scams in the first seven months of the year following a massive uptick in activity from criminal groups.

The Bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) said today it received more than 16,000 sextortion complaints as of July 31, 2021, a number representing two-thirds of the 23,000 romance scam reports the agency received in 2020 alone.

Representing a subdivision of the romance scam category, sextortion is when cybercriminals approach victims and threaten to leak sexual imagery unless the victim pays a ransom.

In rarer instances, the threat actor can also request additional images or sexual favors, the FBI IC3 said today in an advisory warning Americans about the sextortion uptick detected earlier this year.

Most victims report the initial contact with the fraudster is mutual and made using dating websites and apps. Soon after the encounter, the fraudster requests the interaction be moved from the website or app to another messaging platform. The fraudster instigates the exchange of sexually explicit material and then encourages the victim to participate via video chat or send their own explicit photos. Immediately after the victim complies, the fraudster blackmails the victim and demands money to prevent the release of the photos or videos on social media. The fraudster often gains access to the victim’s social media or contact information and threatens to send the images to the victim’s family and friends.

The IC3 said that nearly half of extortion victims this year were in the 20-39 age group.

“Victims over 60 years comprised the third largest reporting age group, while victims under the age of 20 reported the fewest number of complaints,” the IC3 said.

The agency is recommending caution when interacting with people online and advised against sending compromising images even to friends or partners.

The agency also warned Americans to avoid infecting their devices with malware, as some criminal groups may abuse the infection to gather compromising photos from a victim’s device.

In 2015, the FBI had also warned parents that children and teens have often been the targets of sextortion attacks.

Catalin Cimpanu is a cybersecurity reporter for The Record. He previously worked at ZDNet and Bleeping Computer, where he became a well-known name in the industry for his constant scoops on new vulnerabilities, cyberattacks, and law enforcement actions against hackers.