COLUMBIA — The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning the public of an increase in reports of online extortion scams where scammers are sending emails threatening to release sexually explicit photos or personally compromising videos to the individual's contacts if they do not pay.
According to the FBI, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has seen an increase in reports of online extortion scams during the current "stay-at-home" orders due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The FBI said the increase in extortion scams is likely due to a large portion of the population staying at home and using the computer more than usual. The FBI said scammers may use this opportunity to "find new victims and pressure them into sending money."
In a news release, the FBI said:
The scammers are sending e-mails 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, the FBI said they often share certain commonalities.
The FBI said the following characteristics are not all-inclusive but should serve as red flags.
It is important to remember that scammers adapt their schemes to capitalize on current events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, high-profile breaches, or new trends involving the Internet, all in an attempt to make their scams seem more authentic.
Commonalities in extortion attempts include the following:
The FBI listed these tips to protect yourself from extortion scams:
The FBI said it "does not condone the payment" of online extortion demands because "the funds will facilitate continued criminal activity, including potential organized crime activity and associated violent crimes."
The FBI said if you believe you have been a victim of this scam, reach out to your local FBI field office, and file a complaint with the IC3 at www.ic3.gov.
The FBI asks that when an individual makes a complaint, they provide "any relevant information" in the complaint, including the online extortion e-mail with header information and Bitcoin address if available.