Sextortion scams are a new way of demanding ransom

Email fraudsters are using personal information to make their threats seem credible. Many people are receiving emails from hackers who are demanding anywhere between $1700 to $3000 in bitcoin or else they will send compromised information—such as pictures sexual in nature, porn-watching history and webcam video—to the victim’s friends, family and co-workers.

But the victims don’t need to panic. They haven’t been hacked as the email claims. But this is merely a new variation on an old scam which is popularly being called "sextortion." This is a type of online phishing that is targeting people around the world and preying off digital-age fears. Sextortion scammers use urgent language to scare their intended targets into paying a ransom.

One such "sextortion" scam that threatens to expose porn-viewing habits unless one pays a bitcoin "ransom" has hit New Zealand.

The scam is in the form of an email claiming that the sender has installed a malware on the computer and has hacked the recipient's computer and got a copy of the website history which states that the victim has visited an adult website and the scammer has recorded what they were doing via the computer’s webcam.

“Scams preying on human emotions aren’t new, but what stands out about this sextortion scam is how they’re trying to blackmail somebody using something that would be the most sensitive or embarrassing thing you could hold over them,” said Gordie Mah, the U of A’s chief information security officer. “And the personal information is the bait.”

What makes the email especially alarming is that to prove their authenticity, they begin the emails showing you a password you once used or currently use or even your driver’s licence in some cases.

However, cybersecurity experts have warned users against paying ransom as the hackers are not likely having any information and it is merely a way of threatening users.