FBI Issues Alert Regarding Increasing Online Extortion Scam Emails
The US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) issued an alert regarding increasing extortion scam email related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Scammers are exploiting the fact that people are spending an increasing amount of time online during quarantine periods. More people are staying home and likely using their computers and phones more than usual. Scammers are using this opportunity to find new extortion victims and pressuring them into sending money, says the FBI.
There are a few variations circulating but all of the scam emails threaten to release compromising photos or videos to the victim’s contacts if a ransom is not paid. Like most internet scams, the fraudster changes up the messaging and tactics to stay ahead of spam filters, firewalls, and malware protection apps.
“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.,” warns the FBI in Alert Number I-042020-PSA.
An Online extortion scam email can occur in many formats. When they threaten victims, who have supposedly visited pornographic websites, they are known as sextortion scams. The scammers send random emails hoping to trick someone who has actually visited an adult website into sending money to protect their privacy. The hackers do not actually have information from your computer or web browser, it’s just a numbers game. The emails are sent out in large volumes.
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The scam emails may contain menacing statements (often with grammar errors) like “I had a serious spyware and adware infect your computer,” or “I have a recorded video of you ” to explain how the images were acquired. This messaging intends to trick the recipient into thinking the photos and videos really do exist. The messaging will threaten to send the photos and videos to the recipient contacts a payment is not sent within a short period of time.
Sometimes hackers use a bit of personal information about the recipient like username or first name in the extortion scam email to make the threat seem more credible
How to Identify a Scam Email
- The email is sent from someone you don’t know
- The recipient is accused of visiting adult or pornographic websites which may or may not be true
- Scam emails may also be sent from an email address that is very similar to someone you do recognize
- Scam emails are often written with poor grammar and contain misspellings
- The messaging in scam emails use threats to scare the recipient into sending money
- The emails instill a sense of urgency rushing the victim into paying within a short timeframe
- The scammer demands quick payment using an untraceable form of currency like cryptocurrencies or gift cards
- The scammer threatens (via email) to release embarrassing or sexual content two other Contacts to the victim’ email contacts
How to Protect Yourself from Extortion Scam Email
- Never open emails from someone you don’t know
- Monitor your bank accounts and credit reports for suspicious activity
- Do not reply to emails from someone you don’t know
- Don’t record compromising videos of yourself or anyone else and store them online or on any Internet connected device
- Do not use the same password across multiple online accounts if a hacker can compromise one account, they can also hack into other accounts using the same password
- Never transfer money online to someone you don’t know
- If you receive an invoice via email pick up the phone and called to verify the validity of the invoice and the company sending it. Do not use the contact information set alarm with the invoice itself
- When visiting any website make sure you are actually on the website you intend to be on
- Verify email addresses often hackers use an email address or website which is closely named to someone or website that you actually know
- Never respond to any email with personal information or bank account or credit card information