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’ that is sweeping the nation – and the attack has caused at least a 20 suicides in recent years.

Sextortion is when an offender convinces the victim to send sexually explicit pictures 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 being combined with AI, giving offenders tools to create attractive personas and generate convincing conversations. 

These attacks have risen 1,000 percent in the last 18 months, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute, driven by West African gangs who target 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 type of language being used.

These attacks have risen 1,000 percent in the last 18 months, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute, driven by West African gangs who target young people on Instagram , Snapchat and Wizz

These attacks have risen 1,000 percent in the last 18 months, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute, driven by West African gangs who target young people on Instagram , Snapchat and Wizz 

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

‘On occasions sexual videos that the victims shared with the suspect would be drip-fed to the victim’s employer, colleagues, friends and family to add pressure on the victim to pay their ransom demands.’

The Federal Burau of Investigations (FBI) issued a warning recently after uncovering 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 first contact from the criminal will be a threat,’ the agency shared.

‘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. 

‘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.’

Ex-police officer Adam Pilton, Cyber Security Consultant at CyberSmart

Ex-police officer Adam Pilton, Cyber Security Consultant at CyberSmart

Warning signs you are dealing with a sextortionist

Pilton said the first warning sign is if you receive a friend request on social media from a stranger who is the opposite sex – and one that is attractive.

While this may happen very occasionally in real life, it’s a classic sign of sextortion, Pilton said, and users should be immediately on their guard.

There are also often obvious ‘warning signs’ about the profile of a sextortionist, Pilton said.

‘The social media profile of the stranger often has friends that you would not expect them to have e.g. a young female having a lot of older male friends,’ he continued.

‘The social media profile of the stranger will often have limited personalized activity, for example there won’t be photos of the stranger socializing with other people that are tagged into that photo.

‘The other key warning sign is that the stranger is keen to rapidly built a relationship.’

How to spot sextortionists using AI

Attackers may use AI to generate their profile pictures and employ chatbot software to generate convincing conversations, Pilton warned.

Key warning signs are inconsistency in the details of photographs – if attackers are using AI to generate images, the appearance of the person may change or the settings may vary between pictures.

Users should be wary of extremely quick responses and responses that don’t seem to take into account what you have said.

Inconsistent use of language (for example, switching between being affectionate and formal) is another warning sign, Pilton said.

What sextortionists say

If you are contacted via a social media platform, a classic ‘red flag’ is that the person immediately wants to move to another platform such as WhatsApp, Pilton explained.

‘This allows attackers to evade tools used by platforms to detect cybercriminals,’ the former police officer continued.

Victims are urged not to delete any communications, even if they are embarrassing. The exchanges could be used to track down offenders and save others from being taken advantage of.

Victims are urged not to delete any communications, even if they are embarrassing. The exchanges could be used to track down offenders and save others from being taken advantage of. 

‘Conversations will rapidly become sexual and attackers will request photos early on in the conversation.

‘Other warning signs are that the stranger wants to keep their contact a secret or the situation may be unbelievable or you feel uncomfortable.’

What to do if you are targeted

Your first step should be to report the offender to the platform you are using and to law enforcement, said Pilton while also noting victims should block any further contact.

‘Ensure your privacy settings across all platforms are enabled and you are not sharing too much information,’ he continued.

‘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 it.

‘It is really important to stress though, with the rapid increase in sextortion attempts we are seeing, we need to be talking about this. 

‘Family members, friends and even schools should all be making those most vulnerable to this attack aware of it.’

The FBI said, ‘If young people are being exploited, they are the victim 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 urged victims not to delete any communications, even if they are embarrassing. 

The exchanges could be used to track down offenders and save others from being taken advantage of. 



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