There are all kinds of online scammers.
Most of them try to trick users into parting with their hard-earned money on their own accord, but there are also those that prefer a more forceful approach – as the incessant ransomware campaigns, fake law enforcement threats for supposed piracy infringements, and the occasional news of hackers breaking into company systems and demanding money for the return of stolen information have demonstrated.
Individuals are targeted as often as companies, and the latest scheme once again targets a specific subset of users.
According to the BBC, the scheme starts with a woman initiating contact with men on dating sites or social networks. After chatting with her a bit and seeing how she looks like via webcam, the men get a proposition that few refuse: she will strip for them and they will reciprocate.
They are then presented with a pre-taped video of her getting her clothes off, and more often then not they end up keeping their part of the bargain.
And this is when their troubles begin.
“After five minutes she sent me a message saying: ‘Have a look at this video I’ve taken of you. I am going to put it on YouTube unless you send me some money’, shared a victim. “I looked at the video – you could see my face… you could see everything.”
The woman asks the victim to wire 500 Euros to her in order not to make the video available online. If this initial threat doesn’t work, the scammers hiding behind this lovely facade “reveal” themselves as Ivory Coast police agents.
The victims are then given a link to fake websites made to look like they belong to the Interpol or the local police (in this case French), and are sent fake documents accusing them of paedo-pornography – i.e. stripping before minors.
Some of the victims end up smelling a scam and refuse to pay up, and the scammers move on to easier targets. Those who send an initial payment are always asked for more and more.
Vincent Lemoine, a cybercrime expert in the French Gendarmerie’s criminal investigations unit, says that they believe that several blackmail attempts such as this take place every day in France.
“Unfortunately, not everyone who finds themselves victims of this crime is coming forward to the police because these blackmail attempts are so intimate,” he pointed out. Some turn to reputation management companies for advice on what to do.
The scammers take advantage of the fact that many targets are unaware that videos such as those with which they are threatened can be removed from the Internet, and their fear of being unable to clear their names of the false accusations.
The French police advises reporting such blackmail attempts to them, but there is not much they can do afterwards. The scammers are obviously located outside France, and the level of international police co-operation is still not good enough to extend the investigation into other countries.