Love and fear are familiar emotions for any parent, and often they happen at the same time. The modern online world is no exception, and with COVID, these sentiments are amplified. Many of us at ProCircular are parents, and the importance of our work is underlined by emails like this one:
“Tim is 17 and attends a midwestern high school. Last week, we learned that he had been in communication with somebody who had created a fake Instagram account. The individual posed as a female and lured him into some intimate texts and messaging, and eventually, the two of them exchanged some pictures with one another. Tim later learns the Instagram account is fake. Now they are trying to extort him for money or leak his information to all of his social media friends, connections, and colleagues in addition to school and football team.”
Earlier this month, Tim’s parents reached out to ProCircular for opinions about moving forward in this case. They continued:
“We immediately notified the local PD last and encouraged our son to stop all communication, but he continues to be harassed day and night with non-stop messaging and calls.
We didn’t comply with the request for money. Today Tim’s Principal received an inbound email message with the explicit photos. They are still demanding money or indicate they will leak to more personal sources.”
This case is truly shocking, and our hearts go out to both Tim and his parents. Hearing this story forces us to recall our teenage years and that universal desperation for interpersonal connection. Add two years of confinement during “school from home” and the instant gratification of social media, and it’s hard to blame him for getting carried away.
Prevention is the best form of incident management, but in the unfortunate case that you are the victim of an online extortion attempt, these are the tips that you will want to follow:
Our incident responders have seen more than a few similar cases where victims pay, and the attackers come back for more money. We can’t assume that the bad guys are telling the truth. There is no guarantee that you will benefit from complying with their demands……
Like in any extortion case, these cybercriminals use time, shame, and secrecy to their advantage. They use psychological tactics to disarm the victim and prevent them from seeking outside help. Fear is the mind-killer, and bad actors will deliberately induce stress to cloud your judgment……
The photos are already in the wild; that’s virtually guaranteed. As hard as it is to believe, family and friends are more forgiving than people think in these circumstances……
The simple possession of these images is an immense personal and professional legal risk, even when they’ve arrived in your inbox unprompted. Even if you mean well by sharing such content with news media or friends, you can face legal trouble, including second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor……
Who to Call
The first step should be to contact a trusted legal professional to discuss the next steps. Simply possessing these images will land you in dangerous waters, and you need solid legal assistance to navigate these waters. Your next steps will likely be to speak with both local police and the FBI……
Education is Key
As digital natives, some of today’s children are more tech-savvy than their parents. One of ProCircular’s consultants provided an example of a little girl that circumvented screen time limits on her mom’s iPhone by starting a “screen recording” before handing the device over to be unlocked. Kids are not stupid…….