Anonymity on the Internet is both a curse and a blessing. Although this allows freedom of expression without fear of reprisals, scammers can also hide behind fake profiles.

This is exactly what cybercriminals exploit to lure and blackmail their victims. That is why the State Criminal Police Office of North Rhine-Westphalia is currently warning of a particularly perfidious method that you can come across when looking for a partner on the Internet, among other things.

The term “sextortion” is derived from the English “extortion”, i.e. blackmail. Means to an end are usually alleged or real recordings that are supposed to show the victim during sexual acts.

The starting point for the scam is often a chat with people on dating apps like Tinder – which is why men looking for a partner are particularly affected. But large data leaks are also exploited.

Perpetrators then send e-mails to victims, often including names. They pretend to have hacked the laptop or smartphone and to be in possession of compromising footage. The perpetrators give parts of the telephone number or the password as proof.

Victims are then threatened that the video footage will be sent to friends, family and co-workers unless a sum of money is paid in cryptocurrency.

Always be careful when chatting on dating platforms and do not send underwear or nude photos or explicit video recordings. You could also be filmed by your counterpart during a video chat – whether male or female.

In most cases, however, the perpetrators have no compromising image or video material from the victims at all. Instead, personal data was simply bought from large leaks on the dark web. It is best to check your email addresses with HaveIBeenPwned (more information at CHIP).

If there are video links in the e-mail, then you should never click on them – either they do nothing or lead to malware.

The State Criminal Police Office of North Rhine-Westphalia therefore recommends reporting such messages with a criminal complaint. If you don’t want to do this, keep calm and ignore the e-mail for the time being. You should never pay money to the perpetrators, otherwise they can blackmail you again at any time.

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