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"Sextortion” scams have been increasing during the pandemic, the FBI warns.
The bad actors behind the attempted extortions typically email people and threaten to release sexually explicit photos or videos of them to their friends, family and other contacts — unless the target pays big bucks.
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The pretexts vary, according to the FBI, which said targets are accused of visiting adult websites, cheating on spouses or being caught in another compromising situation.
Crooks may say things such as: “I had serious spyware and adware infect your computer” or “I have a recorded video of you,” the bureau says.
The spike in complaints has been noted by the FBI's Internet Complaint Center, which accepts reports online.
It's a coast-to-coast scourge. In Oregon, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum warned state residents about the growing menace after the bureau's alert went out.
"I just think it's totally sickening,” Rosenblum, 69, tells AARP. “Unfortunately, there's a fraudster lurking in every shadow, especially when there's some sort of disaster … be it a hurricane or a pandemic.”
Stay safe from sextortionists
Here's more FBI guidance on staying safe:
• Do not open emails or attachments from unknown individuals.
• Monitor your bank statements and your credit report for any unusual activity.
• Do not communicate with senders of unsolicited email.
• Do not store sensitive or embarrassing photos or information online or on your mobile devices.
• Use strong passwords. Do not use the same password for multiple websites.
• Never provide personal information — of any sort — via e-mail. Be aware that many e-mails requesting your personal information appear to be legitimate.
• Ensure that security settings for social media accounts are activated and set at the highest level of protection.
• Verify the web address of legitimate websites, and manually type the address into your browser.
Rosenblum leads Oregon's Department of Justice, which has received more than 200 emails and calls about sextortion scams since the coronavirus outbreak began.
Across the country in New Hampshire, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, 58, cautioned Granite State residents about the recent uptick in what he called "sexploitation scam emails."
FBI: Don't pay extortionists
Authorities advise targets never to pay the extortionists — because one payment invariably trigger demands for more cash, as was the experience for one lawyer interviewed by AARP. (See sidebar.)
The payment of extortion money “will facilitate continued criminal activity, including potential organized crime activity and associated violent crimes,” the FBI's April alert says.