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Spotting and avoiding sextortion scams

Extortion by email is becoming more common, and it's also a Class B felony.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — It’s an email scam that uses shame to try to get you to pay up. It’s known as ‘sextortion’, and it usually works like this…

You get an email or message from someone threatening to have hacked into your webcam and have a pornographic video of you and then say if you don’t pay them a ransom fee, they’ll blast it out to friends and family members. It might also be a message from someone claiming they’ve got a video of you watching pornography or a copy of your browser history showing your history of visiting and downloading from these websites.

According to the Better Business Bureau, these types of threats are usually empty. The messages from the scammers often don’t include personal information. Scammers will use personal info if they do have it, so the threat seems more credible.

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The Better Business Bureau shares some red flags to look for: the scammer not providing details about the sites you have supposedly gone to. Another red flag could be that the scammer doesn’t share a screenshot that shows you in a compromising situation. Another clue it’s a scam is if they demand you pay up via bit coins, wire transfer or gift cards.

Sgt. Grady Thigpen says it’s usually a Class B Felony for anyone charged for these types of scams.

“Don’t answer the emails that you may be getting that would lead you down that path,” said Thigpen. “Reach out to us and try to avoid that at all costs.”

If you receive an email of this nature, the FBI encourages folks to report it. Folks can also report it to the Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker website. Click here for a list of tips from the BBB to help you take steps to protect yourself from such scams.