A local internet safety company is warning of a recent spike in catfishing and sextortion scams on social media.
The White Hatter, a company committed to internet and social media safety and digital literacy put out a safety alert on Facebook saying the company has recently helped “several teens and one young adult who were ‘catfished’ which then led to sextortion.”
Darren Laur, a former police sergeant and owner of The White Hatter, said that while catfishing and sextortion scams are nothing new, there has been an increase in people reaching out to the company for help since school has let out.
The term catfishing is used when someone is pretending to be another person online. Laur said real people — women who he believes are being trafficked — are connecting with typically young adult and teen males on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
The women slowly enter what Laur calls a “grooming process,” to see if the individual is open to sexual discussion. Then, they’ll ask to switch to a more private app like Whatsapp — which is encrypted — and will engage in sexually explicit behaviour on camera in the hopes their target will reciprocate.
If the target does send a sexually explicit video back, the scammers record it, sending screenshots of the video and the individual’s social media friends and followers list back to them. They threaten to share the video with the victim’s friends and family unless they are paid a certain amount of money through what is typically a paypal account.
“It’s extortion, or more commonly known as sextortion,” Laur said.
Laur said he has worked on many cases like these but said the recent ones appear to be coming from a group working out of the Ivory Coast area in Africa.
“It’s very profitable for them,” Laur said.
Many individuals being targeted by these scams reach out to Laur and his company for help. The latest case he worked on dealt with a 20-year-old who contacted The White Hatter in a panic, worried about his reputation.
In addition to contacting the police, Laur said he advises people not to send money to the scammers.
“If you pay, they know they’ve landed a whale and will go after you for more,” Laur said.
He recommends victims block and delete the scammers and have no further contact with them. In the over 100 cases Laur has worked on so far, he said not one of them ended in their videos or photos being published.
“I’m not saying it won’t happen…there’s always a possibility…but it’s rare,” Laur said. “I think it’s because they just move to the next target. Why would they waste their time?”
Laur said victims of these scams can also set up Google alerts using the screen names the scammers use and their real name. That way, if anything is posted on a network that Google searches, the victims will receive a notification.
The best practice, however is to avoid sending sexual photos or videos unless you’ve met the person on the other end face-to-face, in real life.
“As soon as you hit the send button there’s no pulling back,” Laur said.