Don’t cave in to ‘sextortion’ threats online, say authorities

The scammers claim to have compromising video footage of the victim. © KEYSTONE / GAETAN BALLY

Cases of ‘sextortion’ involving threats of releasing alleged compromising videos are growing online, warns an official Swiss body. The advice: don’t give in and don’t pay.


Such cases led fraudsters extorting some CHF360,000 ($359,040) in the latter half of last year, while over CHF40,000 was gathered by a single account in early 2019, the Swiss Reporting and Analysis Center for Information Assurance (MELANI) said on Thursday.

Victims receive an email claiming that their webcam has been pirated and that they have been filmed watching or masturbating to pornography; they are then told that the material will be sent to all their email contacts unless a certain sum of bitcoins or francs is handed over.

+ The spiking phenomenon of cybercrime in Switzerland

To make their claims seem more believable, the scammers often include in the mail a password belonging to the victim, a personal telephone number – even the threat of an acid or bomb attack.

The mails are so believable – and perhaps the prospect of shame so strong – that victims are increasingly giving in. According to the security firm SANS, a single bitcoin account that they discovered had a balance of $22 million extorted from victims across the world.

However, the advice of MELANI is clear: don’t pay. The claims to possess compromising footage are false, it says, and giving in is simply encouraging such scams.

Further information on what to do if you are the target of such a scam can be found on the website

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