Sextortion 3.0: Your family is at risk too

Sharing family photographs on social media, accepting requests from strangers and even watching pornography ‘in private’ could lead to unexpected twists

Representative image
Representative image

Gautam S Mengle

Who believed sextortion rackets couldn’t get any murkier? Cyber experts in the ‘Maximum City’ warn of a new trend where sextortion rackets are targeting multiple individuals from the same family and at the same time.

Sextortion typically involved sending ‘friend’ requests to men from fake profiles with attractive and inviting pictures on display. Over time the ‘women’ get so comfortable with the victims that they finally share intimate pictures or videos of themselves. That is when the blackmailing would start and victims threatened with making the sexually explicit material public.

But the sextortion racket appears to have evolved and expanded in the city. Citing a recent case, experts in the Cyber Crime Cell point to the victim threatened with exposure of not only his own intimate videos, but also morphed nude pictures of the women in his family.

“The victim was first lured into watching an explicit scene on a video call, during which his reaction was recorded. The accused took pictures of his victim’s sister from her social media page, morphed her face on naked and semi-naked women, which were also forwarded to the victim,” confirmed cyber expert Ritesh Bhatia.

This, experts believe, is the third version of sextortion as a racket. Sextortion 1.0 was where the victim was lured into performing intimate acts on camera, and the videos recorded. In Sextortion 2.0 the cyber criminals started morphing explicit videos to create the impression that victims were watching women perform intimate acts on video calls. While this seems complicated, it is actually ridiculously simple, explain the experts. The victim’s face is generally pasted in one corner of a larger screen, the way it appears on video calls, they said.

The latest trend is the third version of sextortion, and experts, both police and civilian, are worried that it is only going to get worse.

The reluctance of the victims to report sextortion cases to the authorities, they say, is coming in the way of catching the culprits.

“Very few are willing to register a formal complaint. We get scores of calls, emails and have had individual meetings with victims. They all want an end to the blackmailing without registering a complaint, which is simply not possible. The law is very clear on the fact that it should be the victim who must register a complaint in such cases, and forbids the police from taking suo motu cognizance,” an officer with the Maharashtra cyber department explained.

For even seeking details of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of a social media account needs a written complaint for the social media company to comply, he explained.

“What people don’t realise is that even one complaint can make a huge difference. There have been several cases where, acting on a single complaint, cyber police departments in many cities have busted entire gangs running a countrywide racket,” he said.

Make all social media profiles private, especially on platforms where pictures are posted frequently, advise experts; and do not accept requests from strangers, no matter how attractive their profiles are.

“If they look too good to be true,” Bhatia quipped, “they probably are.”

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