If you’re staying home to flatten the curve, be careful trying to get a rise by looking for love online, say experts who’ve been flooded with sextortion complaints.
With much of the COVID-19-ravaged nation under orders to stay in, more men are falling prey to pretty women — or people posing as pretty women — who convince them to engage in self-love on camera, then demand cash to keep from going public.
“This year we haven’t seen very many of these types of cases, until the past two weeks,” said New York lawyer Carrie Goldberg. “It seems like almost every other case referral that we’re getting right now.”
Victims are approached on social media or dating apps, or “a person flies into their DMs,” Goldberg said, then the scammers suggest switching to a more private online platform like instant-messaging app Kik or Skype, where a video call can be recorded.
Things get hot and heavy, nude images are sent or the target masturbates on camera — then come the threats.
The con artists might ask at first for a small amount to keep quiet, say $200, but they come back for more, the lawyers said.
“It’s like feeding a stray cat. The [scammer] is not going to go away,” said Ohio lawyer Nadeen Hayden.
Goldberg said, “A lot of times, the guy just thinks, ‘This really hot woman is hitting on me. They don’t go to the cops, usually they’re too embarrassed, and a lot of times they’re in monogamous relationships.”
So instead, nervous victims go to lawyers, who can get court orders unmasking the online scammer and barring racy images from emerging, or who can ask companies like Facebook to shutter a scammer’s account.
Duped men have been calling from all over the country, said Manhattan lawyer Daniel Szalkiewicz. “There’s a feeling of helplessness.”
New York courts nearly shuttered by the virus prevent lawyers from getting judicial help, and companies like Facebook have been slower to remove offending accounts, Szalkiewicz added.
The latest victims are frequently single men “in a city where you can’t get out and meet people,” said Hayden.
Use the pros for a safe sexual release, even if you have to pay upfront, Goldberg said. “Go to an actual site where they’re professional, not scammers,” she said.
There are ways to protect yourself.
Make your friends list on Facebook and Instagram private; don’t show your face on camera; use your real name or the same screen name, and keep identifying information in your home away from where the webcam can spot it.
“Don’t send anything you don’t want published … especially when you’re engaging in something that’s a little more private,” she said.
Most of all, ignore the demands from scammers, who are usually going after numerous victims at the same time, seeking easy targets and can’t or won’t follow through on their threats, said cybersecurity expert Douglas Brush of Florida-based legal consulting firm Special Counsel.
“As soon as you respond, they’ll know they have a bite on the line,” he said.