This was once a phenomenon largely associated with Bollywood celebrities and political figures but now such scams have become very common across all sections of our Indian society due to the rise of smartphones and fast, cheap internet.
People who feel they are stuck in sexless relationships, young adults who feel lonely or desperate to lose their virgin status and older people who have no outlet for safe sex are among those who are becoming increasingly vulnerable to sextortion.
Indians with poor digital literacy are particularly at risk. The scam usually starts when the victim receives a friend request or some message from a fake profile where the fraudster poses as an attractive female. They try to convince with pictures and fake social media profiles that they are indeed professional, young attractive women. Scammers make use of social media, spam text messages, dating apps, and online advertisements to contact vulnerable victims. Such cases started growing during COVID-19 lockdowns since people were mostly confined at home working and got addicted to the internet like never before.
They lure the victims to become naked in exchange for naked sessions from the other side, they take the screen recording and apart from some initial amount they charge, they now start threatening for more and more money, failing which they threaten to make the video viral.
According to a study done recently by Sophos, a cybersecurity firm based in the United Kingdom, more than half a million US dollars in profits were earned through sextortion spam messages between September 2019, and January 2020 alone. Here, India is the source for 3.73 percent of the messages, followed by Vietnam, Brazil, Argentina and South Korea.
With their naked videos recorded, mostly men from poor economic backgrounds are repeatedly forced to take debt and satisfy the scammers who keep demanding more and more money. With social stigma that their families will be ruined in case their naked video calls are viral, sometimes victims also commit suicides.
Cybercrime experts feel that if India has to avoid becoming a leading hotbed of sextortion, the country should be able to reform its laws, modernise the policing system and increase awareness regarding the social shame associated with sex. The sextortion trend is ripping apart middle class families where men can neither control their urges nor boldly face the scammers and report to the police.