What is Sextortion? Ways to Avoid It

Ruheni Mathenge  - Streaming Expert
Last updated: July 12, 2023
Read time: 18 minutes Disclosure

Sextortion is a growing security threat in the current internet environment. This article explains what it is and how to fight it.

Sextortion is becoming a more frequent security threat in our internet environment. It’s damaging and often attacks minors, making it a grave issue for the victims. Fortunately, there is plenty that you can do to prevent falling prey to this problem if you are aware enough.

Sextortion is a criminal activity. You can think of it as the type of extortion in which the blackmail element involves sexual material or activities. Sextortion is becoming a concern in several jurisdictions. It can harm various persons, from minors to adults, males, and females. It has profound psychological effects on its victims, and it can go as far as to cause physical damage too. And an additional problem is the embarrassment it often causes the victim because they can refuse to report it.

As social media keeps growing in popularity, as well as messaging apps and online dating websites and platforms, the exchange of sexually explicit material is not as rare as it once was. And the ubiquitous webcams and phone cams make it easy for any user to create videos (or have them produced at their expense, secretly). So as the fertile ground for sextortion keeps expanding, every internet user must become aware of it. Awareness is the first preventive step in this and any other digital security issue.

This guide will explain to you what sextortion is and how it happens. We will also suggest measures to help the reader remain safe against sextortion attempts.

Sextortion: What is it? Who are its targets?

Sextortion is a specific type of extortion in which the criminal forces the victim to provide them with sexual media, sexual favors, or money by threatening to distribute the victim’s confidential material, which could also be sexual.

The criminal will claim to have compromising material involving the victim (sexual videos or pictures, most often). Then, the attacker threats to make them available to family, friends, or the general public through the internet unless the victim gives them even more sexual material, performs sexual services or pays a ransom. These threats are real. According to expert predictions, about half of the criminals will carry out the threat.

While some research is still needed on this subject, it seems that females are the most frequent sextortion victims, especially when the criminal’s goal is to have the victim perform sexual services. Males, on the other hand, seem to be the preferred target when the criminal wants money. It became a recent mainstream discussion topic in the UK, as several sextortion cases led to several male suicides.

History of sextortion

The term ‘sextortion‘ appeared first in California in 1950. However, it became more common in early 2009 when government agencies in the US started to warn the general public about sextortion. The social media revolution gave birth to ‘sexting’, where people engage in a conversation and share explicit media with each other without caring about consequences.

Many organizations in the world have stepped up efforts to combat sextortion, among them the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ). Sextortion is prevalent today because of the adoption of the internet and the rise in social media popularity. In China, most sextortion cases are related to predatory lending to students. The cases of sextortion have tripled in Canada, but this time, the victims are young males compared to previous years when most victims were female.

Sextortion is an expanding issue

Sextortion is on the rise on a worldwide scale. In the UK alone, the number of sextortion complaints grew by a factor of three from 2015 to 2017. And those numbers consider only reported cases. However, since this is such an embarrassing issue for the victim, many cases remain unreported, so those numbers could be a small fraction of the actual activity.

The criminals seem to like sextortion if you consider how quickly the cases are rising. It attracts them. The embarrassing consequences implied by sextortion threats increase the chances that a victim will pay up if only to avoid having private pictures or videos sent to their friends, family, coworkers, or even the public a large.

Becoming a sextortion victim is more straightforward than other, more traditional, types of extortion. Governments and companies know this, so they’re becoming very concerned. For example, an employee could easily give away his access credentials and other sensitive corporate information that criminals can use in the future.

The military is particularly vulnerable to sextortion because their environment involves constant scrutiny of their behavior. That makes them more likely to comply with a criminal’s demands. That makes sextortion a criminal door to national security and classified information.

The social impact that sextortion can have is enormous. Especially if you consider how often it leads to the victim’s suicide. So it’s hard to exaggerate the concern we should all have about sextortion.

The methods for sextortion

Sextortion can start in many ways. Let’s have a look at the most frequent general scenarios.

1. Catfishing

Catfishing is such a severe issue that we have explained in detail in our guide to catfishing. (You can read it if you want to become aware of it.)

Briefly, catfishing involves somebody spoofing their identity to persuade their victims to trust them. Their fake identity is always beautiful, successful, and relatable to the victim.

2. Email phishing

Phishing emails are not always directed against corporate firms. Instead, the threat actors can use this technique for sextortion too.

Suppose that your inbox gets a new email. The message says that the sender knows one of your passwords and includes the password in the text so that you know it’s true. The email continues explaining that the sender has compromising material, explicit sexual pictures, and videos showcasing you. And they will publish that material unless you agree to pay them or perform sexual acts for them. 

This strategy relies on password harvesting. The attacker has bought a list of very old leaked passwords (which are available on the dark web and other digital black markets). They are all authentic but very likely to be outdated. Of course, having an actual password you can recognize in the message as your own (even in the past) enhances the sender’s credibility. But since it’s based on password harvesting, this attack will likely be a bluff.

3. Social media

Many sextortion cases begin with a seemingly innocent encounter on social media platforms, dating websites, or sites like Omegle, where users can talk to strangers. Eventually, the perpetrator will persuade the victim to provide explicit material, go naked on camera, or film themselves while performing a sexual act. Once the material is in the criminal’s possession, he can use it against the victim at leisure.

4. Compromised accounts

A user who has ever sent videos or pictures of an explicit nature using a chat app or a social media platform has taken an enormous risk. That material could remain stored in the app or website. So if the account gets hacked, the criminal may find those videos and pictures.

5. Compromised webcams

Malware is another resource for sextortion. An infected computer can give a hacker the ability to use its camera and microphone without the owner’s permission or awareness. Furthermore, they can install a keylogger that will reveal the credentials they need to use all your accounts. Please consider this possibility because it looks too sophisticated. However, it often happens in the real world.

6. Sextortion by known people

Sometimes, the criminal attempting sextortion on you is somebody you know, like your ex. But, in fact, any person possessing compromising images or videos of you could try to blackmail you.

In this scenario, the blackmailer doesn’t need to be technically sophisticated. The material is already available, and their access to you is “natural.” Sometimes this type of sextortion seeks to force the victim into staying with the other person by providing sexual favors or more compromising material.

The good news is that you can prevent this type of sextortion. How? By realizing that it’s always wise not to let other people have visual evidence of your sexual activities. And yes, that applies to your sexual partner too.

Real-life cases

1. Lucas Michael Chansler

This criminal posed as several teenage boys to befriend hundreds of unsuspecting girls. He had his victims send him compromising pictures. Then, he threatened to publish them unless they sent more. And he even delivered on some of those threats. He was sent to prison for 105 years.

2. Luis Mijangos

The Luis Mijangos case happened in 2010, and it became famous when GQ reported it two years later. The man in question sextorted hundreds of women, minors included. He wrote his own malicious code, infected the victims’ computers, and took over the device’s control. He recorded videos of the victims having sex, showering, undressing, and doing other compromising things. Then, he threatened to publish those videos unless he received even more of them. He eventually pleaded guilty and had a six-year sentence.

3. The Ronan Hughes suicide

Ronan Hughes was an Irish teenager who found a love interest online called “Emily Magee.” However, Emily was the creation of a Romanian criminal group that sextorted him to send more pictures and 3,000 EUR to prevent the publishing of his intimate material. The case ended with the teenager’s suicide.

4. The Filipino gang

A gang in the Philippines managed to have a young British citizen called Simon send them a video of masturbating. Then, the crew asked for 600 GBP. Simon paid some of the money because the gang had contact details for his friends, family, and coworkers.

5. Old passwords scam

We’ve mentioned this briefly already. It’s a recent sextortion scam that’s very active online as you read this article.

Data breaches have been a thing for years. Most victims never knew that some of their data had been going around the black market for ages. So the breached data includes very old passwords. The user who had that password years ago probably changed it already.

However, when an email arrives in your inbox issuing a threat and showing you a password that you can recognize as one of yours (even if long ago), the sender is more than likely to get your attention. So the email reaches you, it has an old password you know to have been valid, and the sender tells you that he has sensitive videos of pictures of you. Of course, you’re supposed to send money to prevent divulgation.

While this scam is often a bluff, the credibility added by the password is enough to persuade many victims that they need to pay. 

6. Celebrity sextortion

Celebrities involved in sextortion cases include Camero Diaz, John Stamos, Gene Simmons, and Dan Lobb, a British TV presenter. Mr. Lob was filmed while masturbating, then sextorted over the resulting video. He went on to make a movie, “Celebrity Sextortion,” documenting his case.

7. Anton Martynenko

Martynenko posed as a woman to persuade more than 150 young athletes in the US Midwest to send her compromising images. Then, he asked for even more pictures and even for sexual services. The publication of the photographs would be a punishment for non-compliance. As a result of Martynenko’s behavior, he received a 38-year sentence in prison after two of his victims committed suicide.

8. Christopher Patrick Gunn

The 31 years old Alabama resident created fake Facebook profiles and lured underage girls to share their explicit videos and photos. He was jailed for 35 years.

9. Jonathan Vance

He was sentenced to prison for 18 years because of sending email threats on Myspace and Facebook. He extorted explicit images from more than 50 women in 3 US states.

10. Anthony Stancl

He identified as a girl on Facebook and targeted his classmates. Antony lured his classmates to send him nude photos, after which he extorted them for homosexual sex. He was jailed for 18 years.

How to spot sextortion

Sextorters are professional blackmailers, and they can easily trap you. Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether you are falling for extortion, but the following tips can help you identify sextorters.

  • Threats to harm themselves or commit suicide if you don’t cooperate with their demands.
  • Asking for your login credentials to log in to your account and download personal details.
  • Promising favors in exchange for a photo or video.
  • Asking for simple images of yourself.
  • Asking about your family, friends, and your sensitive information.
  • Faking their identity or gender.
  • Having many accounts or profiles.
  • Recording messages or video chats.
  • Strangers are sending friendly but suspicious compliments, GIFs, or words.

Is sextortion common?

The most common sextortion cases target teenagers. According to a recent study, 5% of high and middle school students have been victims of sextortion. Also, 3% of them confessed to having perpetrated sextortion before. The study made the following conclusions:

  • Students who sextorted their fellow students were likely to experience sextortion in the past.
  • Non-heterosexual teens are highly targeted. 
  • A large number of both sextortion perpetrators and victims are men.

Sextortion can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or race, so you should be cautious about storing or sharing sensitive videos and images. It is important to note that sharing media of underage children is deemed child pornography.

Sextortion aftermath 

Sextortion can have detrimental consequences on the victim, both mentally and physically. A National Children’s Alliance research found that out of four victims of sextortion, two sought medical or mental health care. The research further indicated that one in eight victims of sextortion was not comfortable living in the same environment and wished to move to a different location.

Some victims have suicidal thoughts, while others take away their life. A good example is a Northern Ireland teenager who committed suicide after the extorter released his nude images. On the other hand, many sextorters have faced severe punishment while others are behind bars for a very long period. A good example is the notorious sextorter, Lucas Chansler, who was imprisoned for 105 years.

Avoiding and dealing with sextortion

Keeping yourself away from situations that could lead to sextortion seems like a straightforward thing to do. After all, this type of scam needs the victim’s cooperation (at least in the beginning). However, the high incidence and growing number of cases suggest things are not so simple. So let’s see some of the preventive measures you can adopt to stay away from sextortion.

1. Keep your feet on the ground

We all would like to believe that true love is there and will reach us sooner or later. However, don’t get carried away on social media or dating websites. You could have found a scammer if your love interest seems too good to be true. No, we do not advocate for cynicism. But you do need to keep your brain awake and remain rational.

2. Check so you can trust

If you have any doubts, don’t be afraid to research so you can understand who you are talking to. Fake profiles are a standard tool scammers use to find new victims (it’s called “catfishing”). Scamdigger and RomanceScams are websites devoted to exposing such online scammers.

Don’t be afraid to use every tool available to ensure that your new “friend” is legitimate. But keep vigilant. Passing a few checks doesn’t guarantee anything in the long run.

3. Never share intimate material

It is such an obvious strategy that we shouldn’t even mention it. However, this is how everything starts. You should never send intimate images or videos to anybody on social media or dating sites because it’s always a security risk –let alone to a new person you barely know. The criminals behind these schemes are ruthless, have the skills to manipulate you, and are not afraid to use them.

4. Use good passwords

Sometimes, sextortion follows an account’s successful hacking. As the hacker finds compromising material within the account’s content, they can download it for later use, with contact information that will also help them with the sextortion scam. So use good passwords and adopt safe password management practices.

Every account needs a unique password. Unfortunately, you’re making the hacker’s job easier whenever you repeat a password in more than a single account. So feel free to use a good password manager.

5. Be careful with email attachments

Most email services and messaging systems are fighting spam correctly. But nothing is perfect, so some emails will reach you sooner or later. Do not open attachments from emails from people you don’t know. And even when they look clean, check the email’s header to ensure the sender’s identity is not spoofed. Email attachments are a frequent delivery system for malware, so never open them unless you trust the source. The same goes for hyperlinks.

6. Turn off or cover your cameras

Some malware can give a hacker complete control over your computer’s webcam and microphone. So be careful about them and always shut them off or cover the camera when you’re not using them. A simple Post-it note will do.

7. Keep an eye on your kid’s online activities

Sextortion scams often victimize minors, as seen from our list of actual cases. Children are more vulnerable to these scammers, and the damage they could suffer is also potentially worse. So please make an effort to keep them protected by monitoring their activities and by keeping with them the best communication possible.

8. Use encryption

Encrypting your data storage devices is always a good idea. And if they contain sensitive material of any kind, then you should do it without question. If we’re talking about a complete computer instead of a USB stick, encrypt the folders where that information is.

9. Use a VPN

VPNs encrypt all your internet traffic, incoming and outgoing. It prevents any third party from reading your data stream, even if they manage to intercept it. For hackers, encryption makes it impossible to try a man-in-the-middle attack against you.

10. Use a good antivirus suite

The victim doesn’t always provide the compromising media at the center of a sextortion scam. Sometimes the videos or pictures are stolen from the victim’s computer because a hacker infected it with malware. So having a good antivirus in your system can help you prevent falling victim to sextortion. Use one, and run complete system scans regularly.

Reporting sextortion

Sextortion is embarrassing for victims. But, unfortunately, that means that many will never report their case and that it’s a subject about which not enough conversation is happening in general.

However, if you’re being pressed to send sexual material to somebody or are already a victim of sextortion, you need to report it. Law enforcement can help your plight. Moreover, catching a sextorter will prevent them from victimizing more people in the future.

So pick up your phone and call your local police department. If you’re a minor, tell everything to an adult you trust or your parents.

There is a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline where minors from the US can report sextortion.

Another option is to contact “Thorn,” a charitable organization, by texting “THORN” to 741741.

Reporting an account on Facebook

Facebook strongly opposes sextortion and offers the option to report the profiles that practice it. Follow these steps:

  • Click on the three dots next to a post.
  • Choose the option that has the word “report.”
  • Answer Facebook’s questions about the event you are reporting.

What can you do if you are a sextortion victim?

Falling prey to sextortion is a nightmare. But you can prevent the situation from getting worse by acting correctly. Here are some suggestions:

  • Talk to somebody. Yes, it isn’t charming. You could feel shame about the problem, but consider that remaining isolated from this issue only empowers the scammer. Your first order of business is to keep calm. Then, talk to somebody you trust. If nobody comes to mind, then consider using the Crisis Text Line.
  • Stand your ground. Do not comply with the scammer’s wishes. You can’t know that everything will stop if you only pay up once, send them another picture, or perform the sexual favor they want. You empower the criminal every time he gets what he wants, thus making it increasingly improbable that they will leave you alone. Stop all your contact with the sextorter.
  • Document your case. Collect as much data as you can to use as evidence. For example, take screenshots of the conversations, and keep a record of the fake profiles and all your contact information. 
  • Press charges. Sextortion is a severe crime in many jurisdictions. So take a step forward and press charges.

Tips for parents

The most common avenues of sextortion today are online chatting and online dating. However, parents can use these tips to keep children safe and help them recover after suffering sextortion.

  • Discuss potential consequences: Parents should make their children aware of the potential consequences of sharing their sensitive information, images, and videos. Also, help them understand the repercussions of engaging in sextortion, its effects on victims, and the potential punishment.
  • Discuss sextortion threats: Help your children understand how sextorters can trick them, including sextortion emails, Facebook, and catfishing
  • Try to find out what they are doing online: Engage your children in conversations that can help them open up about their online encounters without judging them. Take it slow because they might not be willing to share with you at first.
  • Let your children know they can count on you and always come to you when they are in doubt or have questions regarding sextortion, online dating, or their sexuality. Help them understand that you can listen to them without punishing them.


Sextortion is a grave issue with equally serious consequences for all the parties involved. As cybercrimes go, sextortion is exceedingly severe, so we encourage the victims to denounce this crime and press charges.

However, the best idea is to never arrive at the scenario where you are a sextortion victim. Instead, be proactive and prevent such a possibility by being careful about cybersecurity and online behavior.


Sextortion is a severe offense in which the offender threatens to make private and explicit information about you online (or to share it with your friends and family) if you do not comply with their demands. Usually, these demands involve sexual favors, images, or money.

Sextortion is a digital blackmail scam in which the criminal attempts to have the victim provide him with sexually explicit material, money, or sexual favors. The supposed risk for the victim is that, if he refuses, some sensitive material about the victim (usually explicit pictures) will be released to his family, friends, or the internet.

1. First of all, keep a cool head.

2. Do not comply with the criminal’s demands. You can’t know they will stop blackmailing you if you do –and, in fact, the more you comply, the more likely they will keep going.

3. Talk to somebody you trust.

4. Collect all the information you can to use as evidence later.

5. Press charges.

Yes, you can. Here are some suggestions:

1. Use a VPN.

2. Use a good antivirus.

3. Be prudent about the information you share about yourself online.

4. Cover your webcam when not in use.

5. Do not open attachments from strangers.

Yes, you can. Here are some tips:

1. Do not accept friend requests from random strangers.

2. Take advantage of Facebook’s privacy features.

3. Use Facebook Messenger wisely.

Share this article

About the Author

Ruheni Mathenge

Ruheni Mathenge

Streaming Expert
187 Posts

Tech researcher and writer with a passion for cybersecurity. Ruheni Mathenge specializes in writing long-form content dedicated to helping individuals and businesses navigate and understand the constantly evolving online security and web freedom worlds. Alex is a strong advocate of digital freedom and online privacy.

More from Ruheni


No comments.