Listen to this page! Narrated by Nicole A.
Updated: January 27, 2022
Written by Deanna D.
Edited by Nicole K.
Episode 9 Background: In this episode, a teen becomes a victim of a blackmailer after some not-so-normal web surfing.
Mentality – The mentality to gain attention and attract as many eyeballs as possible is common for corporations, organizations, institutions and individuals. It can lead to fame and fortune in some cases. More often, for school-aged kids, it is an endless popularity contest measured by the likes and views a young person gets. And don’t worry, kids keep a close count. To a teenager, a camera is an innocent yet necessary piece of equipment that is the stage they sing or dance on. Young girls record themselves and post material online easily. Teenagers may focus on their singing, but criminals troll for these kinds of photos and/or videos of young girls. The criminal turns their focus not to the singing or dancing, but to the star of the photos and/or videos.
The soon-to-be victim gains a criminal’s attention. This criminal is posing as a teenager when in fact they are much older. The new-found friend hands out many compliments and flirts with their victim, appearing to be wholesome, sweet and nice. They provide attention morning, evening and night in real-time from anywhere in the world. The relationship starts with simple greetings, check-ins and then can escalate to telling each other they missed one another and flirting. Everyone wants attention, it feels good. If a teenager is proactive and objects to the conversations and seduction, a predator drums up the cultural construct that girls cannot be rude or mean but rather must be nice, polite and obedient. Not everyone falls for this trap. A teenager is told to stay away from the sites, but kids cannot control themselves and cannot stop. Plus, most teenagers are tech-savvy and are excellent at skirting around any parental controls.
Malware – Malware is a broad term for any type of malicious software, no matter how it works, its intent or how it’s distributed. A virus is a specific type of malware that self-replicates by inserting its code into other programs. Worms, trojans and the like get on our devices by a criminal tricking us into clicking on a malicious link. The most common scam is phishing emails because they are low risk and get a high return for the criminal. Plus, they are hard to identify. Despite that, they have many of the following features: a generic greeting (Dear Sir/Madam or Dear User), a request for personal information, a sense of urgency, a threat of action or deactivation, a fake website address or link that looks real but is fake, a very long, convoluted email address with a few recognizable words, and poor spelling and/or grammar in the body of the email. If something seems suspicious, it is fishy. Our guts can tell.
Scams – Cybercriminals are on the prowl for ways to scam people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They never stop. These attacks can occur on any device, a smartphone, laptop or tablet. So, beware! Always be cautious and question any suspicious activity whenever online. Cybercriminals may use phishing emails, intimidating texts and robocalls, too-good-to-be-true online offers, or pop-ups. This is not an exhaustive list as new ways to trick people are constantly being invented. Their goal is to get you to click on malware-infected links or attachments and share your personal or financial information so they can steal your identity or rob you. Sometimes criminals are not necessarily interested in your personal or financial information, but in taking over your device and its camera.
Blackmail/Extortion – The new type of criminal is everywhere. The blackmailers, extortionists or sextortionists are adults preying on younger users, especially teenage girls. Often, offenders do not know how to deal with the stress of work and family. They progress from legal material to illegal Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) through avenues such as pop-up advertisements. Predators often lack social connections, resulting in them using the computer for comfort and making faux connections. The CSAM provides an escape from their pain, allowing them to enter a sick fantasy world in which they fail to connect the images to reality and see their behaviour as a victimless crime. There is an absence of social accountability, as the predator is habitually not talking about their behaviour to anyone. So, the criminal has only their own internal point of view on their behaviour. Besides, many feel they are just watching the CSAM and not making the material.
Extortion Leading to Inappropriate Behaviour – Criminals groom their victims by giving them attention, flirting with them, and asking the victim to be nice to them and to trust them. The criminal flatters the victim repeatedly and eventually coaxes them into performing sexualized acts on camera allowing the criminal to capture the material. Hence, the criminals are nicknamed “Capers.” If they get an explicit picture or video, it is a win. They can take screenshots or use one device to take a photo or video of another device. The victim may never know the criminal has gathered this material because permission or notice isn’t required.
Once one sexually explicit photo is captured the criminal potentially uses blackmail, extortion or sextortion to get more material. The criminal can threaten to send the material to all of the teenager’s contacts. Also, the criminal can hack the victim’s various accounts and emails. They may use other tactics and threats as well.
In the past, Individual victims or their parents have gone to the police, but they felt the authorities did nothing to help, as they merely suggested the victim close their accounts and stay off of the Internet for a while. It may work for a short time, but experts say the blackmailer often finds a way to reconnect with the victim in some other manner and demand more photos or videos. Victims and parents of victims need to be advocates. They need to know that authorities from all around the world work together to catch predators. Also, in the past police officers have taken over a teenage girl’s account, lured the perpetrator into identifying themselves and caught the bad guy.
The victim may appear cooperative, if only for a split second. If this is the case, it often means the victim is coaxed into performing a sexualized act. Other times, a criminal takes over a device’s camera with malware. This is more than a hidden camera in a public washroom, change room or hotel room. The criminal works diligently behind the scenes to capture incidental sexual material. The victim is completely unaware.
In communities around the globe, survivors of blackmail, extortion and sextortion live with the debilitating fear that the photos and/or videos memorializing their sexual incident shared on the Internet will remain online forever for anyone to see. Many of these teenagers are once more victimized as their images are shared again and again, often well into adulthood, even decades later. They constantly worry someone who has seen their images will recognize them in public.
Once an image is out there, you cannot get it back – technological tools have been developed to assist companies in detecting inappropriate material on their servers so they can immediately remove it. Several organizations actively scour the Internet for these images and notifying online platforms so they can be promptly removed. Memorializing and distributing the incident through images and videos creates additional layers of victimization and trauma.
Advice for Parents and Caregivers
Bluntly discuss with teens the potential harm of using any kind of camera online as well as using various apps and websites. Especially those that allow one to communicate with complete strangers. Meeting new people from around the world can be fun but it can also be very dangerous. Teens using websites need to know they can have detrimental consequences for their well-being. Compulsive users and people who tend to compare themselves with others are most at risk. Parents and guardians need to build the comfort level of the teen. Ideally, a teen would go to their parents or guardians if they are uncomfortable with any interaction on any website.
Teens need to be guarded by being instructed not to give out any identifying information such as an address or a phone number. Criminals can be dangerous intending to cause physical and psychological harm. They may spend time grooming and building a relationship with a teen. Then, as the relationship grows, they may exploit the teen by requesting sexualized images of them. The young person is never to fulfil any inappropriate request.
Monitor Emotional Health
Internet users are likely to have emotional ups and downs at different times while online. Users with an addiction to the Internet and who compare themselves to others are more likely to experience feelings of sadness, depression, and anxiety than those who are not addicted and do not compare themselves to others. Dating site users may experience lower body image satisfaction and self-esteem. Teens need to consider how they feel before and after they are on an app or website. Perhaps asking themselves if it is time to take a break and knowing who to talk to about any negative experiences.
Create Hard-to-Guess Passwords
Criminals can hack a teenager’s many social media accounts and emails. The advice is to create a strong password. It is simple if you follow a few easy steps:
- Make the password at least 8 characters long.
- Contain three out of the four elements:
- Uppercase (English) letters such as A, B, C.
- Lowercase (English) letters such as a, b, c.
- Numerals such as 1, 2, 3.
- Special characters such as !, @, #, $, *, ), +, etc.
- Change your passwords every year.
Never use the same password for more than one account. Basically, each account, and there are many of them, must have a unique password. Do not write the passwords down. If you must write it down, make sure it is not identifiable as a password and lock it up. Never leave your username or password out in the open. Never use automatic logins. Some applications and browsers allow you to save your password. Never use these features. If your device is compromised, the data on the machine is at risk. If your username or password is compromised on any account or device, change the password, immediately.
Secure your devices
Ensure your devices always remain in your possession and use locking mechanisms whenever possible. Store devices in a lockable drawer or cabinet when not in use. Pay attention to extra devices you have lying around or have replaced with more current models. Cover the camera on your laptop when not in use. Only open the camera when needed and then when finished with the camera immediately cover it again.