Sextortion: Hackers Using Personal Info to Extort Nude Images, Sexual Favors

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 09, 2016 2:05 PM

Imagine a Venn diagram with overlapping circles of hacking, sexual harassment, and extortion -- that's 'sextortion,' a crime whereby a person threatens to distribute someone's private and sensitive information if they don't provide images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money. And while this may seem like a rare crime that only targets certain individuals, the FBI has indicated that sextortion incidents have been on the rise.

So how does sextortion work, exactly, and how can you protect yourself?

A Green Light to Blackmail?

The FBI is using the story of Ashley Reynolds to warn others about sextortion. Reynolds was 14 when she was contacted online by someone she thought was a teenage boy who claimed to have embarrassing sexual pictures of her. The person threatened to post Ashley's pictures to the internet if she didn't send him a topless image of herself. What followed were more threats and demands, and more sent pictures.

Ashley's parents finally discovered what happened and contacted the police. An investigation led to the arrest and conviction of 26-year-old Lucas Michael Chansler, who is now serving 105 years in prison for multiple counts of child pornography production. Law enforcement estimates that Chansler victimized some 350 teenage girls, 250 of whom have yet to be identified.

Online Safety

The best way to avoid sextortion is to always know who you're talking to on the internet, and never share personal information or images with strangers. Teens should also never send sexual or compromising images of themselves to anyone, no matter who they are -- or who they say they are. (Even if it's a boyfriend or girlfriend, underage sexting can be a crime.)

And if a person online sends sextortion threats, tell someone. If not your parents, you can tell a trusted teacher or counselor, or the police. You are not alone, and you won't get into trouble, even if you comply and send pictures or video.

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