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Porn scam warning hits Richmond

Posted at 12:01 PM, May 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 12:03:28-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Scam artists are using pornography to scare people into sending them money, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

“[We’re] warning the public about sextortion emails from scammers trying to blackmail recipients into giving them money. Sextortion emails typically include threats to reveal images and videos of the victim watching or utilizing pornography, copies of their browser history or evidence that they downloaded videos from pornographic sites,” a BBB spokesperson said. “With more people staying at home and likely using their phone, computer or tablet, con artists are using this opportunity to their advantage in hopes of getting money from you.”

How the scam works:

The scammers will contact anyone - whether or not the victim has actually visited pornographic sites. They’ll claim to have hacked your computer, activated your webcam, and videoed you while you watched pornography.

They’ll tell you they have been able to access all the pornographic websites you have visited and threaten to send embarrassing images, videos, and screenshots to stolen contacts, family, friends and co-workers if a payment is not made.

“Generally speaking, the threat is likely an empty one, because the blackmail message usually doesn’t have enough personal information to make their scheme plausible,” the BBB spokesperson continued. “However, there are some cases where the victims are specifically targeted because their data was compromised in a major security breach some time ago. In those situations, the scammer may have your email, telephone number, and at least one password, and will refer to it in the email. By using real information, the scammer’s email sounds more threatening and convincing.”

A Richmond man who received a scam email said the blackmailer told him he had some of his personal contact information, including his videos lease record, to make it sound convincing.

“The claim was that this person had a video of me looking at porn and he would send it to all of my contacts if I did not pay within a set time $2000 in bitcoin. He claimed that if I contacted anyone or if I ignored it, the video would go out to all of my contacts,” another potential victim told the BBB.

BBB is sharing the following tips to help you identify and protect yourself from sextortion emails.

Red flags:

The scammer doesn’t provide details about what site you supposedly visited.

The scammer cannot support their threat with any evidence, for example, a compromising screenshot to prove they have the information they claim.

The scammer requests an urgent ransom be paid in gift cards, bitcoins or wire transfer.

Other red flags include grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and a window of time in which to pay up.

Protect Yourself:

Never send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are—or who they say they are.

Try searching the web for one or two sentences from the email to confirm it is actually spam.

No matter what the email threatens, do not respond. Also delete the email.

Do not open attachments or click links in emails from people you do not know. Doing so could lead you to a fake website designed to trick you into giving up personal information or you may download malware to your computer or mobile device.

Never send money, buy a gift card or do anything to comply with the demands in the email.

Do a security check on your computer and install security software.

Enable two-factor authentication on your important accounts.

Change passwords often and consider getting a password manager to ensure your passwords are strong and unique. Avoid using ‘password’, ‘Password123’, ‘12345’, and other most commonly used passwords.

To give you peace of mind, keep webcams covered when you are not using them.

All victims of a scam should report it both to your local law enforcement as well as to BBB Scam Tracker.