FBI warns AI ‘sextortion’ has risen by more than 1,000% in the US – and a former police officer reveals warning signs you’re being targeted
The government is warning Americans about the rise in AI ‘sextortion’ sweeping the country – and the attack has caused at least 20 suicides in recent years.
Sextortion occurs when a perpetrator convinces the victim to send sexually explicit photos of videos and then threatens – and the criminal threatens to release them to the public if they do not receive more content or money.
However, these attacks are combined with AI, giving perpetrators the tools to create attractive personas and have persuasive conversations.
According to the Network Contagion Research Institute, these attacks have increased by 1,000 percent in the past 18 months, driven by West African gangs targeting young people on Instagram, Snapchat and Wizz.
DailyMail.com spoke to an ex-police officer who shared warning signs of the attack, such as certain details in social media profiles and the type of language used.
According to the Network Contagion Research Institute, these attacks have increased by 1,000 percent in the past 18 months, driven by West African gangs targeting young people on Instagram, Snapchat and Wizz
Adam Pilton, who previously led a cybercrime team, said: “I have seen and investigated many cases of extortion. Often the victims are devastated by what happened and feel very ashamed.
“Sometimes, sexual videos shared by the victims with the suspect were trickle-fed to the victim’s employer, co-workers, friends and family to increase pressure on the victim to pay their ransom demands.”
The Federal Burau of Investigations (FBI) recently issued a warning after discovering an increase in attacks since October 2022.
‘Sextortion can start on any site, app, messaging platform or game where people meet and communicate. In some cases, the criminal’s first contact will be a threat,” the agency said.
“The person may claim to already have a revealing photo or video of a child, which will be shared if the victim stops sending more photos.
‘More often, however, this crime begins when young people believe they are communicating with someone their own age who is interested in a relationship or with someone offering something of value.’
Ex-Police Officer Adam Pilton, Cyber Security Consultant at CyberSmart
Warning signs that you are dealing with a sextortionist
Pilton said the first warning sign is when you receive a friend request on social media from a stranger of the opposite sex – and one who is attractive.
While this can happen very occasionally in real life, it’s a classic sign of sextortion, Pilton said, and users should immediately be on the lookout.
There are also often obvious “warning signs” about a sextortionist’s profile, Pilton said.
“The stranger’s social media profile often includes friends you wouldn’t expect to have, for example a young woman with many older male friends,” he continued.
‘The stranger’s social media profile will often have limited personalized activity, for example there will be no photos of the stranger socializing with other people tagged in that photo.
“The other important warning sign is that the stranger is eager to build a relationship quickly.”
How to spot sextortionists using AI
Attackers can use AI to generate their profile pictures and use chatbot software to generate persuasive conversations, Pilton warned.
The main warning signs are inconsistency in the details of photos: if attackers use AI to generate images, the person’s appearance may change or settings may differ from photo to photo.
Users should be wary of extremely quick responses and responses that don’t seem to take into account what you’ve said.
Inconsistent language (for example, switching between being affectionate and formal) is another warning sign, Pilton said.
What sextortionists say
If you’re contacted via a social media platform, a classic “red flag” is that the person wants to immediately switch to another platform like WhatsApp, Pilton explains.
“This allows attackers to evade the tools used by platforms to track cybercriminals,” the former police officer continued.
Victims are urged not to delete messages, even if they are embarrassing. The exchanges can be used to track offenders and prevent others from being taken advantage of.
“Conversations will quickly turn sexual and attackers will ask for photos early in the conversation.
‘Other warning signs are that the stranger wants to keep his contact secret, that the situation may be unbelievable or that you feel uncomfortable.’
What to do if you are targeted
Your first step should be to report the perpetrator to the platform you are using and to law enforcement, Pilton said, while also noting that victims should block any further contact.
“Make sure your privacy settings are enabled on all platforms and that you are not sharing too much information,” he continued.
‘Don’t pursue it any further. Do not pay any ransom. The stranger will probably come back and ask for more.
‘Seek help, a conversation with a family member or friend is often a good start. The more you think about it, the harder it can become to talk about it.
“However, it is very important to emphasize that given the rapid increase in the number of extortion attempts we are seeing, we need to talk about this.
“Family members, friends and even schools should make those most vulnerable to this attack aware.”
The FBI said: “When young people are being exploited, they are victims of a crime and should report it. Contact your local FBI field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI or report it online at tips.fbi.gov.”
The agency also called on victims not to delete messages, even if they are embarrassing.
The exchanges can be used to track offenders and prevent others from being taken advantage of.