Enticement, Extortion, and Sextortion

 

GOLDEN RULES:

  1. Slow it down - Scams are often designed to create a sense of urgency. Take time to ask questions and think it through.
  2. Spot check - Do your research to double check the details you are getting. Does what they’re telling you make sense?
  3. Stop! Don’t send - No reputable person or agency will ever demand payment or your personal information on the spot.

 

You receive a message from someone you don’t know in real life. They are highly complementary, soon start asking your secrets, and encourage you not to tell anyone about your special relationship. Your communications happen on a variety of platforms. Before you know it, they are asking you for things - this may range from money to nude pictures to an intimate video call. If you don’t send what they ask for, they start threatening to blackmail you with secrets, information, or pictures you have provided previously. This is grooming and sextortion.

Your friend met someone online. They quickly feel like no one can understand them the way this person can and are receiving presents from their online companion. Your friend starts withdrawing, becomes secretive about the relationship, and just isn’t quite themselves. These are strong signs of sextortion.

 

What are Grooming and Sextortion?

Grooming, sometimes known as online enticement, is when someone builds an online relationship with a person and manipulates them into doing something, usually something sexual, though it is also a tactic used for radicalizing individuals and recruitment into fringe groups. While this can happen to any age or gender, it is of particular concern for young people.

Sextortion is a type of online enticement in which a predator obtains nudes or other explicit materials from a victim and then uses these to extort the victim further, often pressuring them for more explicit material, an in-person encounter, or requesting other things such as money.

These abusers are good at lying about who they are, which can make it difficult to discern between an online friend and a predator. Some red flags for grooming, potentially leading to sextortion, include:

  • Sending lots of messages, especially over a variety of channels
  • Giving a large number of compliments and flattery
  • Sending gifts or making offers of things such as gift cards, alcohol, drugs, or transportation
  • Asking for conversations to be kept secret
  • Developing a rapport that emphasizes trusting them
  • Asking for secrets and personal information - This is often used for blackmailing later
  • Asking for information such as where you go to school, who else uses your computer, and where you use your computer - This can be used to target you and determine if they are likely to be caught
  • Attempting to alienate you from your family and friends
  • Initiating sexual conversations and role-play
  • Offering to send or sending sexual images of “themselves”
  • Asking for sexual images, livestream, or other such visual material
  • Saying they will be upset or threatening you if you don’t do what they want

 

Where Does it Occur?

Grooming can happen anywhere that online communication occurs. Some of the most frequent places these criminals target young people are:
  • On social media platforms - They often create fake profiles pretending to be younger than they are and send out friend requests to multiple targets.
  • Striking up conversations in online forums and games
  • Dating apps
  • Instant messaging apps

Often, a groomer will begin contact on one platform then move the conversation to another platform. They frequently stay in contact with their victims through multiple platforms, to include texting and email.

 

Protecting Yourself

Being cautious of who you are talking to and aware of red flags are your best way to protect yourself from these abusers. Here are some pointers to get started:

  • Never talk to someone online unless you know them.
  • Be careful and thoughtful about what you share online and via messaging apps. Even if it is a platform that deletes the content, it’s easy for someone to take a screenshot and share it more widely than you intended.
  • Check your privacy settings on applications. Make sure these are set to share with your intended audience. Best practice is to have any profile with personal information set so that only your known friends can view it.
  • Never send explicit photos or videos of yourself to someone else. Remember that once they are in the possession of someone else, they are out of your control.
  • If someone tells you to keep the fact that you are talking to them secret, inform a trusted adult and block the person.

 

If you think you are being groomed:

  • Tell somebody. It is an illegal activity - speak to a trusted adult who can help you with talking to the police and filing the appropriate reports. If you do not feel you have someone to help you, please see the resource list below for organizations that can provide you support.
  • Remember that you are not to blame for this situation. Groomers and sextortionists will often use language to convince you that you are to blame and no one will be there for you if you tell them; this simply isn’t true, no matter how convincing they sound.
  • Report the account via the platform’s reporting mechanisms.
  • Preserve messages with the abuser as evidence, but BLOCK them immediately.

If someone has posted your personal information or uploaded a video of you without your consent, you can request removal of content based on our Privacy Guidelines.  You may also report videos that contain inappropriate content by flagging the video.

 

Resources:

  • Report suspicious conversations to the platform. If these communications are happening on Google products, you can find reporting help for child endangerment here.
  • If you are looking for support in such a situation, Teen Line has trained teen listeners to provide support and resources.
  • Operation Underground Railroad has resources and training to help you recognize online grooming.
  • For sextortion victims, consider the Take It Down service for victims under 18, and stopncii for adult victims.

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