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COVID-19: Cybercriminals Using New Sextortion Tactics Amid Pandemic

A screenshot of the indexed database scammers have been using during sextortion scams.
A screenshot of the indexed database scammers have been using during sextortion scams. Photo Credit: ISC

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has provided cybercriminals the opportunity to get creative with their “sextortion” tactics as they exploit the pandemic, according to reports.

In the past, criminals have targeted their victims by claiming they have embarrassing, salacious video proof, typically from a webcam, of a person watching sexual content.

The scammers then seek to extort immediate payment in bitcoin or gift cards, threatening that otherwise, the alleged content will be disseminated on the Internet.

However, according to new information released by the cybersecurity analysis website ISC, criminals have been taking on new tactics to exploit their victims.

According to a blog post from ISC, cybercriminals have been creating phony accounts on dating websites posing as young women. Once they receive a response from their victims, the scammers allegedly attempt to extract personal information from the victim including name, mobile phone, location, and sexual preferences.

That information is subsequently posted online, and to be unlisted, fraudsters are instructing their victims to pay to be removed from the public forum, which is indexed by Google.

ISC said the forum appears to have been online for a while but is still filled with new data.


“The problem is that, even if the victim pays, the forum is indexed by Google and other search engines (like the very popular yandex.ru)," analysts noted. “This makes the process to be unlisted very difficult, if not impossible.”

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said it has seen an increase in reports of online extortion scams during the current "stay-at-home" orders due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Because large swaths of the population are staying at home and likely using the computer more than usual, scammers may use this opportunity to find new victims and pressure them into sending money,” they wrote in a report.

“The scammers are sending emails threatening to release sexually explicit photos or personally compromising videos to the individual's contacts if they do not pay. While there are many variations of these online extortion attempts, they often share certain commonalities.”

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