It’s Cyber Security Awareness Month, and we’re focusing on effective ways to identify and avoid online scams so that you can stay safe and secure online.
With social media and dating sites being some of the most popular ways to interact with others, scammers are increasingly more likely to take advantage of the trust and emotions of people online for their financial gain. In the past few years, scammers have been increasingly relying on romance and sextortion scams as a way to deceive people looking for love online, with 23% of UK adults being targeted by a romance scam.
Romance and sextortion scams can feel incredibly invasive and violating and, as the Revenge Porn Helpline has seen, can result in private sexual images being used to blackmail victims for money.
The Rise of Romance Scams
Romance fraud and scams increased in 2022, with romance scammers going to great lengths to exploit their victims for money, through fake relationships which often start on social media and dating sites.
Scammers can spend months developing their relationships, before manipulating their victims to send over money to cover ‘emergencies’ e.g. family hospital bills. Alongside this, the Revenge Porn Helpline has found that scammers will often use their victims’ intimate content to extort money from them.
There are several key signs that can indicate if a romance scam is taking place, including:
- Quickly displaying overly strong emotions and commitment within the relationship.
- Using other people’s images. You can sometimes perform a reverse image search to check.
- Asking for money, often for emotive reasons.
- Not wanting to video call or meet in person.
If a romance scam is taking place, it is important to stop all communication and avoid paying them any money. You can find out more about romance scams and what to do if you’ve been affected on the Revenge Porn Helpline website.
Identifying a Sextortion Attempt
Like Romance Scams, Sextortion scams have increased every year since 2021, with the Revenge Porn Helpline 2022 Report revealing that it is the most reported issue the Helpline supports with. Sextortion scams often happen very quickly, encouraging those affected to share intimate images and videos, before threatening to share the images in question with colleagues, friends, and family unless they receive money.
Sextortion scams are usually run by organised criminal gangs operating from call centre-like environments, exploiting many people at once for their financial gain.
There are several ways to identify a Sextortion scammer, including:
- Seeing if they have a realistic social media profile: Check their friends list for genuine interactions and relationships. See if they have a history of posts and photos, and if they have extensive engagement with others.
- Questioning if things are moving too quickly. Such as if they are asking to exchange sexual images or video call quickly?
- Quickly moving to end-to-end encrypted platforms. This includes messaging on WhatsApp or sending photos/videos on Snapchat.
For more information on identifying a scam, the Revenge Porn Helpline has a series of resources that can help support anyone affected.
How to Deal with a Scam
The impact of a romance or sextortion scam can be devastating and often leaves people feeling distressed, confused, and hurt. If you believe you may have been a victim of a romance scam, it’s important to remember that you have not done anything wrong and that there are people who can help.
There is plenty of advice you can follow if you’ve been affected by a scam:
- Don’t panic and stay calm.
- Do not pay any money; they’ll probably ask for more.
- Take screenshot evidence of the threat and save the direct URL links to the scammer's profile.
- Block and stop ALL communication.
- Get in touch with the Revenge Porn Helpline for more advice.
What to Do if You’ve Transferred Money
If money has already been sent to a scammer, you should contact your bank to explain your circumstances as soon as possible. You can also contact the police or Action Fraud.
How to Protect Your Intimate Images
If you are concerned about your intimate images being shared, or if someone is threatening to share them, there are several ways to protect your images online.
The Revenge Porn Helpline can support any adult in the UK who is experiencing intimate image abuse. To get in touch, you can call the Helpline on weekdays between 10am-4pm on 0345 6000 459, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any adult around the world can use StopNCII.org to help protect and prevent their intimate images from being shared on websites (partnering platforms) such as Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and more. StopNCII.org can be used without any photos ever leaving a personal device, ensuring privacy at all times.