AI Sextortion Rises 1,000% in the US in the Last 18 Months

Sextortion is on the rise in the US, with the government warning citizens to be on the lookout as perverts abuse AI to perpetrate the offense on unsuspecting individuals.

A former police officer has revealed warning signs that individuals should know if they’re targets of the offense that has increased by more than 1,000% in the last 18 months, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI).

What is sextortion?

Sextortion is the act of convincing victims to share sexually explicit videos and pictures, and the criminal threatens to release them to the public if they don’t receive more such content from their victims.

According to the NCRI, the offense in the US is currently led by West African gangs that are targeting young people on social media platforms like Instagram, SnapChat, and Wizz.

“I have seen and investigated many cases of sextortion. Often the victims are devastated by what has happened and are highly embarrassed,” said Adam Pilton, who formerly led a cybercrime team.

“On occasions, sexual videos that the victims shared with the suspect would be drip-fed to the victims’ employers, colleagues, friends, and family to add pressure on the victim to pay their ransom demands,” added Pilton.

James Woods, a 17-year-old track star, was targeted on Instagram in another case of online sextortion in November 2022. Currently, there are concerns over the increase in internet-facilitated sexual offenses, especially among young people and children.

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It can happen on any site

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has previously issued warning signs after unearthing a spike in attacks recorded since October 2022.

“Sextortion can start on any site, app, messaging platform, or game where people meet and communicate. In some cases, the first contact from the criminal will be a threat,” shared the agency.

“The person may claim to already have a revealing picture or video of a child that will be shared if the victim does not send more pictures.”

The FBI further elaborated on how victims, especially young children, are easily lured into the trap.

“More often, however, this crime starts when young people believe they are communicating with someone their own age who is interested in a relationship or with someone who is offering something of value.”

The FBI has also previously estimated that there are half a million sexual predators active online every day, and half of the victims are between the ages of 12 and 15 years old.

The red flags

According to Pilton, victims usually receive friend requests on social media platforms from the opposite sex, who is also usually attractive.

Other warning signs, according to Pilton, are found on the offender’s profile, which usually has “limited personalized activity; for example, there won’t be any photos of the stranger socializing with other people.”

“The other key warning sign is that the stranger is keen to rapidly build a relationship,” said Pilton.

According to Pilton, these offenders may also use AI-generated profile pictures as well as chatbots to create quick and convincing responses during conversations.

However, chances are high that when using AI to create images, there may be inconsistencies in the details of the images; for instance, the settings “may vary between pictures.”

There are also inconsistencies that may be noted in language, like switching between being formal and affectionate. Pilton warned people should be on the lookout for seemingly very quick responses; some of the responses don’t consider what you’d have said in the conversation.

Another huge warning sign, as shared by the experts, is that the stranger wants to immediately move to another platform like WhatsApp.

“This allows attackers to evade tools used by platforms to detect cybercriminals,” Pilton pointed out.

Other major warning signs are that the conversation can quickly turn sexual and that the offenders want to keep their contact information secret.

Way forward

According to the ex-police officer, the first step should be reporting the offender to law enforcement agents and ensuring privacy settings are in place across platforms.

“Do not engage any further. Don’t pay any ransoms. The stranger will likely come back and ask for more. Seek help; speaking to a family member or a friend is often a great start. The longer you dwell on it, the harder it can become to talk about,” he said.

The FBI also called on victims to report such cases immediately to the agency.

“If young people are being exploited, they are the victims of a crime and should report it,” said the FBI.

Additionally, the FBI said victims should also delete any communication with the offenders “even if it may be embarrassing.”

Organizations like ChildFund’s WEB Safe & Wise have taken the initiative to tackle the global rise in online child sexual abuse, focusing on strengthening laws and policies and raising awareness.

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