Sextortion is a growing problem that’s affecting more of us in Aotearoa - especially young people.
Police received 618 reports of this type of online sexual blackmail between 2020 and the end of 2022 - and those are just the instances they know about. They say many others have likely been victims and just haven’t come forward yet.
Netsafe has seen an 88% increase in reports of sextortion since 2019, with victims ranging in age from as young as 10 to over 65.
It can be scary if you become one of these increasing numbers of victims of sextortion. But the good news is there are things you can do to stop these scammers if they do target you.
So what is sextortion?
Sextortion is a type of blackmail.
Scammers usually create fake profiles on social media and work to gain your trust or pretend to be in a relationship with you online.
They will convince you to send nude or explicit photos and videos and then threaten to share those images or videos if you don’t do what they say. They usually ask for money or sometimes for more explicit material.
How can you spot sextortion before it happens?
There are a few warning signs you can look out for when online:
- Any inconsistencies in the profiles of people you’re chatting to.
- Excessive friendliness - beware the new online acquaintance who becomes very friendly very quickly. Remind yourself that unless you’ve met someone in real life, you can’t know their true intentions and identity.
- Scammers will often use pre-recorded content to make it seem like they’re interacting with you live when they’re not, so be aware that things are not always as they seem.
If a person’s requests or actions online start to make you feel uncomfortable, trust your instincts and remember it’s okay to say no.
But it pays to remember the ways in which scammers commit sextortion are always evolving.
Webcam blackmail has emerged as a new way for scammers to demand money, for example. They will do so after recording video chat sessions with you that they then threaten to share online.
Sextortion scammers are also now using technology to fake material that you haven’t even shared.
The important thing to know is that these blackmailers are professionals.
Some are working alone, but others are also part of organised criminal groups who are highly skilled at tricking people into giving them what they want - so it’s not your fault if you find yourself the victim of sextortion.
What should you do if you’re a victim of sextortion?
Scammers are usually targeting lots of people at the same time and will often focus on the people they think are most likely to do what they say. This means they will ditch people who very quickly block them and refuse any more contact.
So don’t pay them the money they’re demanding.
Other steps to take include:
- Report the scammer and the content they are threatening to share to the social media site you’re using. Most will remove the content as they usually don’t allow nudity. Netsafe has a helpline team that can talk you through how to report scammers on social media sites if you can’t find the instructions yourself.
- Block all further contact with the blackmailer.
- Either temporarily deactivate your social media accounts or make them as private as possible to prevent further contact from the scammer.
- Ask trusted friends or whānau to report the content too and keep an eye on social media in case the content is shared anywhere else.
- If you have copies of the images or videos that you’re being blackmailed with, try using the free tool called Take It Down. It can create a special code from pictures and videos and share the code with other online platforms to help find and remove them.
- Report the scam to police by calling 105. You can also report the scam by completing an online form or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- Get the emotional support you need. Sextortion can be very upsetting, so talk to somebody about what’s happening. You can also contact organisations like Youthline or Lifeline if you need to.
It can feel really overwhelming if somebody threatens to share pictures or videos of you without your consent, so find someone you trust and work through the above steps to get yourself through it.
And remember, sextortion is never your fault. You have the right to be safe and respected online.
This content is sponsored by Netsafe. Netsafe offers a confidential service to help people navigate what to do when they fall victim to sextortion.
Netsafe’s helpline (0508 638 723) is open 8am-8pm weekdays and 9am-5pm on weekends. You can also visit their website for more advice and tips in dealing with scammers and getting content removed online.
“I didn't have the language or understanding to describe my care experience."
Here in New Zealand, over a third of people who leave prison are back inside within two years.
“My pronouns are one of the ways I feel most myself, so it hurts [when people ignore them]”.