SEXTORTION: The New Cyber Predator – PART 2

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SEXTORTION:  The New Cyber Predator - PART 2Last time, we discussed the phenomenon of sextortion and cyber-predation, dangerous crimes that have grown out of the age of social media and internet. How does one fall victim to these crimes, and how can we protect ourselves and our children?

How Cyber-Predators Find their Victims

Predators are individuals, generally part of a network, who monitor live internet web rooms. Once they identify someone they think is emotionally vulnerable, they begin to gather information about the teen; where they live, their peers, their family, and information about the school they attend. It begins through social media. The predator uses verbal coercion, starting with compliments and flattery once there is engagement with the victim. The predator may disguise himself as a member of the opposite gender to create a false sense of security and trust for the victim. Ironically, most sextortionists are not our typecast older males; they are typically 20-30–year-old men.

Initially, the capper may convince the victim to provide a suggestive photo, and once received, follows with various threats in an attempt to extort further and more revealing photos or activities. In other situations, victims may be told by the stranger that their address is known and that harm will come to the victim’s family if s/he doesn’t comply with certain demands, usually commencing with nude or intimate photos. The demands escalate with further threats and intimidation. Once the first set of photos or video is obtained, they are used to extort more from the victim. Photos are only the beginning. The demands escalate into the salacious and X-rated, including webcam viewing or recording of the victim in various degrees of sexual activity or touch either alone or with others.

Predators who Hack

Did you know? Your webcam can be hacked, leaving you unknowingly vulnerable to sextortionists. This can happen when the victim unwittingly “accepts” the installation of a program or application. Miss Teen USA 2013 wasn’t inviolable…..her computer was hacked into, the hacker used the webcam to take pictures of her as she undressed, and then she was threatened:  the photos would be posted online unless she provided other nude photos, a video, or engage in Skype. The perpetrator was eventually identified as a former high school peer. As a precaution, I encourage you and your family to refrain from undressing in the same room as your webcam.

The Impact of Cyber Predators

The greatest tragedy in this new form of extortion and bullying is the impact on the victim, his/her family, and the community. Online predators use humiliation, shame, guilt, intimidation, threat of harm to loved ones, and threat of exposure on and off-line to get compliance. Possibly the most well-known case is that of Amanda Todd, the BC teen who committed suicide in October 2012 after being bullied not only by her victimizer but also by her peers. Amanda, however, was not simply a victim of cyberbullying. It is now understood that she was also a victim of sextortion, another factor contributing to her suicide. Amanda’s experience has shown us just how prevalent sextortion is and, fortunately,  awareness is increasing amongst  law enforcement, educators, and mental health professionals.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Children

  • PREVENTION is the first line of defense.  Inform yourself and your children about cybercrimes and learn strategies for online safety.
  • Be involved and know about your child’s Internet and social media activity.
  • Use parental controls on television and computers.
  • Ensure a secure home network, including robust passwords for your wireless network.
  • Limit webcams and don’t allow them in the bedroom or bathroom. If you have a built-in webcam, close your laptop lid at night. With a PC, disconnect the camera from the USB. Better yet, shut the computer down!
  • Set reasonable limits at home for electronics use; limit internet usage behind closed doors or  secluded from others.
  • Avoid clicking on questionable or unfamiliar ads or attachments – you will not lose all your data if you don’t purchase a security shield in the next 5 minutes!  Beware  of malware!
  • Be wary: if a program shows up on your screen and asks for permission to install itself, and you don’t recognize it or have doubt….DON’T click the “Accept” button!  Google the name of the installer and understand what the risks are.
  • Learn how to conduct regular cleaning or maintenance on your computer with virus and malware scans.
  • Learn secure procedures for online interactions. Limit the personal information you post.
  • Teach your children the limits of sharing personal information, especially around gaming activities.
  • Engage in open discussions with your children about cyberbullying and sextortion.
  • Report any questionable material or behaviours to the police – don’t be dismissive, as it’s far better to be cautious than to suffer the consequences of falling victim to a predator.
  • Encourage discussion and seek help from a mental health professional or your EAP if you have questions, concerns, or doubts regarding your child’s behavior or relationships.

Having conversations with your kids about cyberbullying and sextortion can be difficult and uncomfortable. But being aware of the risks and understanding how to reduce risks for you and your family is well worth any temporary moments of discomfort. Your EFAP counsellor can help.

Further reading:

Cyber Alerts for Parents & Kids Tip #2:  Beware of “Sextortion”   http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/february/sextortion_021012

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