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Content warning: This post contains content that may be upsetting for some readers. Additional warnings are located throughout the document to signal the introduction of disturbing content. Resources for those affected by sextortion are linked below.
Just under three years ago, Benjamin Wittes, Cody Poplin, Clara Spera and Quinta Jurecic published a Brookings Institution report on sextortion—a relatively new form of cybercrime in which a perpetrator extorts victims by threatening to disseminate sexually explicit content involving the victim, usually obtained through hacking, online manipulation or trickery. Blackmailing victims using their sexual activity as leverage is a crime as old as time, but this form of sextortion is a uniquely modern phenomenon insofar as it relies of the use of modern technology in the acquisition of material and the threat of dissemination. The internet’s global reach allows perpetrators to operate from remote locations and attack victims in the perceived security of their own homes. The widespread popularity of social platforms such as Facebook and YouTube exponentially increases the potential number of views for disseminated material, and hacking allows perpetrators to target an extraordinary number of victims at rates that even the most prolific serial rapists would struggle to match.
Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos may now be the most famous victim of sextortion: In a Feb. 7 Medium post, Bezos shared the details of his alleged blackmail by American Media, Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid. While this received a lot of attention, the typical sextortion victim lacks the resources, position of power and public platform that enabled Bezos to come forward with and own his story. Some may not realize that they are not alone in their suffering.
The first in-depth study of this phenomenon, the Brookings report identified prosecuted cases involving 78 perpetrators and more than 3,000 victims. Since Brookings published the report in May 2016, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Texas, and Utah have all criminalized sextortion. But there is still no such crime as “sextortion” at the federal level—and the federal government still does not keep data on incidents of sextortion. In response to the initial Brookings report, Sen. Barbara Boxer wrote a letter to then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch inquiring as to how the Department of Justice was collecting data on the subject. The department responded that forming a database would be “a difficult task” and it has not subsequently taken steps—at least not in public—to collate sextortion statistics.
The Brookings report thus remains the only collection of sextortion cases—and there is no public information on how many sextortion cases have taken place since the report came out in 2016. To address this problem, I spent the summer of 2018 compiling additional sextortion data. This post details what I found.
In total, I identified 124 additional alleged perpetrators, and thousands of additional victims. Sextortion serves an umbrella term that encompassesa spectrum of activities. On one side of the spectrum, some perpetrators target victims using sophisticated hacking techniques—a feat that would have undoubtedly been impossible 20 years ago. On the other side of the spectrum, perpetrators may hire a private investigator to record compromising sexual behavior, as highlighted recently by Bezos’s case. The majority of sextortionists do not operate at these extremes, but rather rely on simple manipulation and trickery on social media.
Sextortion can be incredibly brutal, but local police often have difficulty understanding or addressing the threat. In the recent case of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey, for example, McCluskey reported her sextortion to campus police at her school. But the police failed on multiple fronts, as outlined in a piece written by her mother. McCluskey was eventually murdered by the man who sextorted her.
A note on methodology: I searched the LexisNexis news database and Google for foreign and domestic instances of sextortion that were recorded online in the period since the Brookings report was published. I conducted my searches in LexisNexis by combining each American state with the following terms and phrases: sextort, sextortion, cyber sextortion, cyber sexual exploitation, online sexual exploitation, online sexual exploitation, non-consensual pornography and nonconsensual pornography. I also ran searches of all the above terms in the Department of Justice website, the FBI website, and in Google itself. I limited the results to articles published after the cut-off date for research on the previous Brookings report: April 18, 2016. When internet searches produced leads on potential perpetrators, but no clear resolution regarding sentencing, I contacted the relevant authorities to learn about any updates in the case in question. Any sentencing information in this document that does not include a hyperlink was gathered by means of a telephone call.
I began this research on June 4, 2018, and completed it on July 24. Since then, I have occasionally added relevant articles when brought to my attention. Some of the material I have included, though published after the cut-off date, reports sextortion occuring before said date. The authors of the 2016 Brookings study might have included some of these cases, had they been aware of them at the time. Consequently, this report does not constitute a scientific study of all sextortion reported in the past two years but, rather, serves to offer insight regarding the sheer volume and the types of cases that have occurred.
I identified three main strategies of sextortion: catfishing, hacking and relationship abuse.
In many cases, perpetrators “catfish” their victims by assuming a false identity online. Using this false identity, the perpetrator forms online relationships with victims who might have been less willing to communicate had they known the perpetrator’s true identity. For example, an adult male perpetrator might pose as a teenage girl in order to get a teenage boy to send him nude pictures.
Hackers, by contrast, infiltrate a victim’s private computer or network. Some choose to control a victim’s webcam, activating the recording feature with the intention of capturing the victim in a comprising state of dress or activity. Others gain unauthorized access to a victim’s private account and sift through private data, hoping to find sexual material belonging to the victim.
In both methods, the victim may be unaware that the hack has occurred until the threats of blackmail begin.
Relationship abuse occurs as a method of sextortion when perpetrators threaten to disseminate sexually explicit photos or videos of a victim obtained over the course of a romantic relationship with the victim. Relationship abuse is distinct from other methods of sextortion, because in these cases, the victim always knows the perpetrator personally before the sextortion begins. This dynamic renders seeking outside help particularly difficult; victims of relationship violence face a multitude of barriers when attempting to leave abusive relationships.
What follows is a list of all of the cases I identified. Like the original Brookings report, I collected data on sextortion occurring both within and outside of the United States. Unlike the Brookings report, the list that follows is not based principally on court documents. Instead, I consulted press accounts, Justice Department press statements, research papers, university publications, teen magazines, business publications, the Federal Trade Commission, women’s legal defense advocacy pages, U.S. Air Force publications and technological publications. My work is more inclusive than the original Brookings report, which focused only on prosecutions of perpetrators who sought production of pornography. The data I collected detail victims’ accounts along with identifying alleged perpetrators. Moreover, I include cases in which the object of the sextortion was not the production of pornography but money or other gains.
In recording these data, I chose to be over-inclusive so as to not omit any potentially valid cases. As such, some instances are labeled as “edge” cases, meaning they may or may not be considered sextortion depending on how broadly or narrowly one understands the term.
Lawfare is not an advocacy organization and cannot provide counseling or advice for individuals affected by sextortion. A variety of third-party sites are available to aid individuals who would like to access resources regarding sextortion: Thorn offers tips for victims and friends of victims and identifies the following websites for individuals experiencing sextortion: Without My Consent, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, The National Domestic Violence Hotline, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, and Male Survivor. To report cases that involve the exploitation of victims under the age of 18, Thorn recommends the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and Internet Crimes Against Children Task. Individuals can report suspected sextortion to the FBI or to local police. In an emergency, individuals can call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
The material that follows contains content related to sexual assault and abuse, child abuse, pedophilia, incest, animal cruelty, self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, violence and mental illness.
In most cases, perpetrators sextort victims to obtain additional sexually explicit material or money. In a small number of cases in this sample, perpetrators appear to be sextorting for a goal that is neither sexual nor financial in nature; the Bezos case is a high-profile example of this sort of activity. A more pedestrian example: One perpetrator threatened to disseminate sexually explicit material sent to him by his classmates if they did not divulge their social media passwords to him. Such cases appear to be rare. Sexual gratification and greed appear to be the overwhelming motives of sextortionists.
As in the original Brookings study, this sample suggests that sextortion for sexual gratification is a highly gendered offense. With only one exception, I found no evidence of women committing this type of sextortion. Though victims of sextortion for sexual gratification include both female and male minors, the majority of minor victims are female, and the data does not include any adult male victims. This does not mean that no adult men have been victims of sextortion for gratification—just that those cases may not have been reported. (Adult men face different barriers to reporting sexual assault, and evidence suggests that men are less likely to report than women.)
There is no “typical” case of sextortion for sexual gratification. Some perpetrators demand a picture of uncovered breasts. Others force victims to commit acts of sexual violence, including but not limited to rape, incest and bestiality.
Sextortion for financial gain is also influenced by gender, though less so than sextortion for sexual gratification. Both men and women are perpetrators and victims of this type of sextortion. The majority of those targeted, however, are male. Sextortionists who victimize men for money are more likely to hack or catfish to sextort. Many of the identified foreign perpetrators seeking money operated in rings based out of the Philippines, Morocco, or the Ivory Coast; by contrast, most domestic perpetrators appeared to be operating alone.
It is not uncommon for sextortionists to accuse their victims of consuming child pornography. In some instances, victims believed they were engaging in sexual video chats online with individuals over 18. After the chats, perpetrators claimed that the victim had actually interacted with a minor and threatened to release the evidence to the police. Occasionally, the subjects of the videos are actually minors whom the perpetrator forces to perform while recording the interactions.
Six suspected victims in this sample took their own lives. Of these, four were victims of financial sextortion while two were victims of sextortion for sexual gratification. Four more victims, all of whom were victims of sextortion for sexual gratification, threatened to attempt taking their own lives. The sample size here is too limited to make any kind of firm judgment, but these numbers may owe something to the fact that financial resources are finite, while victims can always continue to produce sexually explicit material, though the psychological burdens are great. This is not to suggest that sextortion for sexual gratification is less traumatic to victims than sextortion for financial gain—just that a demand that physically can’t be met may induce a different form of stress than one that can. Additionally, other victims may have also taken their own lives without the death ever being linked to previous sextortion, or there may have been other suicide threats that went unreported.
The data below are sorted according to the identification—or lack thereof—of a perpetrator, jurisdiction, and the objective of the sextortion. Cases published based on victims’ testimonies without a known perpetrator are classified as victims’ accounts. Cases with identified perpetrators are classified as domestic or foreign based on the country in which the relevant law enforcement operation began. Victim accounts are classified by location based on identity of the victim or the country of the relevant publication. The objective of the sextortion is classified as sexual gratification, financial gain, or, in a few specific cases in which the perpetrator’s objective did not fit into either category, miscellaneous.
Sections on domestic and foreign perpetrators are organized alphabetically by the last name of the alleged perpetrator. Victims’ accounts are organized in chronological order of the date on which the account was published.
All the data in this report is based on media reports and public records. The author has no independent knowledge of, and makes no assertions regarding, the veracity of this information beyond what is available from these sources.
Domestic Perpetrators of Sextortion for Sexual Gratification
- On July 7, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas sentenced Robert Dion Ables to 80 years in federal prison following his guilty plea. A Justice Department press release states that, according to court documents, Ables convinced multiple female minors to send him nude photographs of themselves over social media and then threatened to disseminate the images online if the victims did not provide more material. According to the Dallas Morning News, Ables admitted that in addition to targeting girls, he posed as a 14-year-old girl on Kik Messenger and blackmailed adult men for money after convincing them to exchange nude photos with him.
- In a July 14, 2017, press release, the Justice Department announced that David Ackell had been sentenced to 33 months in prison after being found guilty of cyberstalking in a jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire. Ackell allegedly convinced a 16-year-old girl to send him nude images of herself. When the girl tried to end the “relationship” after she turned 18, the Justice Department said, he threatened to disseminate the images and rape a third party, a 14-year-old girl. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed Ackell’s conviction on appeal.
- The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced on Feb. 14, 2017 that Kelvin Acosta had been sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to producing child pornography. The Justice Department press release alleges that Acosta tricked female victims, aged 13 to 25, into supplying personal information over social media, which then allowed him to hack their email accounts. Claiming to have found compromising photographs or videos in the accounts, Acosta allegedly extorted multiple minors for pornographic video chats, money or both.
- According to Alaskan television station KTVA, Alaska state troopers arrested Eric Adams on Jan. 27, 2018. Adams allegedly blackmailed his victim by threatening to release sexually revealing material featuring her. This is an edge case, because it remains unclear to what extent Adams utilized modern technology in his alleged exploitation. Adams pleaded guilty to charges of coercion and extortion in Alaska state court.
- The U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York sentenced James S. Allen to 262 months in prison, the Justice Department announced in a press release on Sept. 14, 2015. Allen, who pleaded guilty to producing child pornography and cyberstalking, allegedly contacted 18 victims, claiming to have found nude images of them online and directing them to a phony website to view the supposed photos. According to the Justice Department, the phony website enabled Allen to discreetly acquire the victims’ email addresses and passwords. Allen then allegedly told the victims that he had nude photos of them and would threatened to disseminate those photos if the victims did not engage in sexual acts over Skype, according to his plea agreement.
- On Aug. 25, 2016, the Justice Department announced in a press release that the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York had sentenced Jose Alvarado to six years in prison. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Field, Alvarado was found guilty of having coerced a 15-year-old girl to text graphic photos of herself to him. Alvarado allegedly threatened to expose these images if the victim did not comply with his demands.
- The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri sentenced Mario Ambrose Antoine to ten years in federal prison on Sept. 13, 2017, a Justice Department press release announced. According to the Justice Department, Antoine pretended to work for fictional modeling agencies and pornographic film companies and tricked women into engaging in “sexual and pornographic activity” with him, which he recorded. When some women complained that they were not financially compensated for their performances, Antoine allegedly blackmailed the women by forwarding the pornographic material to the victims’ friends, boyfriends or employers. Antoine pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.
- The Massachusetts State Police arrested Bryan Asrary in late 2016 on suspicion of possession of child pornography, according to an article by ABC7 Eyewitness News Los Angeles. Posing as Justin Bieber on social media, according to law enforcement sources cited by ABC, Asrary allegedly obtained nude images of a nine-year-old girl living in Los Angeles County and later threatened to disseminate nude images of the victim if she did not provide additional sexual material. Asrary was charged in California state court and pleaded nolo contendere to two charges each of contacting a minor to commit a felony and using a minor to produce child pornography. On the charges of contacting a minor to commit a felony, he was sentenced to three years in prison on one count and two years on the second; on the charges of using a minor to produce child pornography, he was sentenced to eight months on one count and two years on the second count.
- Timothy Wayne Beckett was convicted of possession and production of child pornography and the attempted sexual coercion of four victims in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in 2010. As noted in a compilation of “nonconsensual pornography dissemination cases” by Eric Goldman and Angie Jin, the defendant allegedly obtained nude images of four underaged boys by posing under a false identity on MySpace. According to court documents, he threatened to disseminate the images of the victims if they did not engage in sexual activity with him.
- A June 27, 2018, article in GoErie.com, a local newspaper in Erie, Penn., reports that the FBI arrested Mark Bretz for sextortion. According to court documents cited by the paper, the government alleged that Bretz extorted approximately five victims, at least one of whom was a minor, by threatening to disseminate nude images and videos if they did not provide additional material. The government charged that he obtained the images while posing under a false identity on social media. Bretz pleaded not guilty. According to court documents, his case is currently in pretrial proceedings as of March 2019.
- In 2015, Tony Jefferson Browne was convicted of production and receipt of child pornography, coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in sex acts, and transferring obscene material to minors in the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, as noted by Goldman and Jin. According to prosecutors, Browne threatened to disseminate sexual images of his multiple victims online if they did not engage in sexual activity with him. His conviction was affirmed on appeal.
- On April 25, 2018, Minnesota state prosecutors charged William Calderon with using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime, strangulation and child enticement. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the government alleged in court filings that Calderon threatened to disseminate sexual images of a 15-year-old girl he met online if she did not provide additional sexually explicit material and meet him for sexual encounters. One of these encounters reportedly ended with Calderon strangling the victim until she lost consciousness. According to a representative of the relevant court via phone call: The case has yet to be resolved; Calderon is due back in Waukesha County Court on April 3, 2019.
- On Feb. 22, 2013, NBC Chicago reported on the case of Alex Campbell, who was sentenced to life in prison by a federal judge in November 2012. The news outlet cited court documents stating that Campbell forced a victim of human trafficking to engage in sexual relations with another woman while he recorded. Campbell allegedly threatened to disseminate this video if the subject attempted to escape the trafficking. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction on appeal in 2015. Both the district and appeals courts subsequently rejected his motion for a new trial.
- The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland sentenced Kevin Graham Conlon to 20 years in prison, the Justice Department announced in a press release on July 25, 2017. According to the press release, Conlon pleaded guilty to catfishing four minor females and two minor males and convincing them to send him sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves. Conlon disseminated the material to the victims’ families and friends when they refused to comply with additional demands, the press release states.
- The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma sentenced Carlos Alexander Davila to 20 years in prison on Dec. 14, 2016. A Justice Department press release alleges that Davila contacted a 14-year-old girl online whose friend had recently taken his/her own life. According to court proceedings, the press release states, he offered to provide counseling to the girl in exchange for nude images, which he then threatened to release if she refused to provide additional sexually-explicit material. Davila pleaded guilty to producing child pornography.
- According to Fox 35 Orlando, Orange City Police officer Joshua Fancher was arrested on May 29, 2018, on a Georgia state warrant for “making terroristic threats.” Fancher allegedly threatened “to kill [a woman] and kill and/or rape her family members” if she did not provide him with nude images, according to authorities cited by Fox 35. According to the Lowndes County District Attorney’s Office via phone call, this case is still pending and Fancher does not yet have a court date as of January 2019.
- Antonio Fontana was sentenced to 30 years in prison for coercing a minor girl to perform sexual acts in a video chat, the Justice Department announced on Aug. 10, 2016. He allegedly threatened to disseminate the video if she did not comply with his demands, which included recording sexual acts of increasing invasiveness. He pleaded guilty to one count of coercing and enticing a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity, one count of producing child pornography, and two counts of extortion.
- A federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware indicted Scott C. Foster on April 13, 2017, according to a Justice Department press release, for allegedly posing under a false Facebook identity and persuading two girls to send him sexually explicit images. Scott pleaded not guilty and his case is currently in pretrial proceedings. This is an edge case because it remains unclear if Foster ever blackmailed the victims with the material, though the press release refers to Foster’s having been “indicted for ‘sextortion.’”
- The U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii sentenced former U.S. soldier Christopher Ernest Fox to 15 years in prison on July 31, 2018, the Army Times reported. According to the Times, prosecutors alleged that Fox persuaded his 12-year-old victim to send him explicit photos of herself, which he later threatened to distribute if she did not provide more. He ultimately posted the photographs on social media. Fox pleaded guilty to producing child pornography.
- On March 30, 2017, Richard Eugene Fye III pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to “using the internet to target and extort children through sexual exploitation … and pornographic offenses,” according to a Justice Department press release. As described in the press release, Fye catfished a 15-year-old girl by posing as a 14-year-old boy on social media. The victim sent nude photos of herself to Fye upon his request, which he allegedly then threatened to send to friends and family if she did not send a nude video of herself. Fye engaged in similar online chats with other minor girls, the government alleged. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in October 2017. A December 2018 ruling in his case references his desire to file a direct appeal of his conviction and sentence; on March 11, Fye appealed his sentence.
- In D.C. v. F.R., a New Jersey state court found the defendant, F.R., had committed stalking and harassment by threatening to disseminate sexual images of his former girlfriend if she did not provide additional sexual images, as noted by Goldman and Jin. The appeals court affirmed the judgment. This is an edge case because it remains unclear to what extent F.R. utilized modern technology in his alleged exploitation.
- According to al.com, an Alabama news site, U.S. marshals arrested Franklin Brooks Gray on April 11, 2018. The article describes court records alleging that Gray forced “a woman to have sex with him by threatening to expose damaging information about her if she refused.” According to a representative of the relevant court reached by phone, the case is now before a grand jury as of March 2019.
- In 2015, Eric Greitens, then the governor of Missouri, took a nude photograph of a woman while she was “blindfolded and bound with tape to an exercise machine,” according to the New York Times. While the sexual encounter was consensual, the victim alleged that Greitens took the photo without her permission. He then allegedly threatened to disseminate the revealing photo if the victim told anyone about their affair. The Times later reported that Missouri prosecutors dropped invasion of privacy charges against Greitens just days before trial, though a different prosecutor later said that the investigation was still ongoing. This is an edge case because it remains unclear to what extent Greitens utilized modern technology in the alleged exploitation.
- Gerardo Leonel Giron pleaded guilty in Virginia state court to producing child pornography and unlawful filming of a minor, along with two additional misdemeanor charges, after “filming an 11-year-old girl in the shower in order to blackmail her for a kiss” according to a Fredericksburg.com article on Feb. 7, 2018. He was sentenced to ten years in prison with four years and 10 months suspended, the same outlet later reported.
- According to a Justice Department press release on May 30, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware sentenced Justin R. Gulisano to 200 months in prison after Gulisano pleaded guilty to “coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity.” When the victim was 15 years old, Gulisano allegedly convinced the victim to send sexually explicit images and videos to him online, which Gulisano then posted to a pornography website. According to the guilty plea as described in the press release, when the victim refused to provide additional content, Gulisano threatened to kill the victim and to share the sexual content with the victim’s brother and disseminate it on the internet once more.
- In a press release on May 23, 2016, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington announced a guilty plea by Larry Gutierrez to the charge of production of child pornography. Gutierrez allegedly used catfishing to convince his victims—some of whom were in elementary school—to send him sexually explicit videos and images of themselves. In some instances, the press release states, Gutierrez made victims hold signs indicating their ages; one victim included her age along with a plea: “Stop blackmailing me.” If the victims resisted additional communication, Gutierrez threatened to disseminate the content online accompanied by the victims’ contact information so that predators could target them, according to the press release. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison.
- Adam Russell Hegyi was charged with transferring obscenity to a person under 16 and online stalking, according to the the Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana. The Department of Justice announced on June 6, 2017, that Hegyi allegedly “used a variety of social media applications” to communicate with the victim, beginning when she was 12. Hegyi sent photos of his genitals and persuaded the victim to send nude photos of herself, then coerced her to produce more photos by threatening to post the pictures online. In August 2018, Hegyi pleaded guilty to producing child pornography, as reported by the Northwest Indiana Times. He was sentenced to 22-and-a-half years in prison in January 2019.
- On Aug. 30, 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana announced charges filed against Buster Hernandez for “threats to use an explosive device, threats to injure and sexual exploitation of a child.” According to the Justice Department, Hernandez targeted a number of victims—including at least three minors—in at least 10 federal districts. Hernandez allegedly convinced his victims to send him sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves online. When the victims refused to provide additional content, the U.S. attorney’s office alleged, Hernandez responded with a variety of threats. The government claims that Hernandez responded to victims’ refusals by posting the sexual content online or by threatening to “slaughter” a victim’s entire class—a threat that caused local schools and businesses to temporarily close. Hernandez pleaded not guilty to the charges and his trial is currently scheduled for May 2019.
- According to an article published on Aug. 2, 2016, by California news outlet Fox40, Christian Hirtzel was sentenced to four years and eight months in state prison after pleading no contest “to felony charges of extortion, accessing a computer to extort, contacting a minor to commit a sex offense and possession of child pornography.” Hirtzel allegedly attempted to extort at least nine female victims by threatening to disseminate compromising photos of them if they did not provide additional material. Law enforcement officials cited in the news report alleged that in many instances, Hirtzel hacked the victims’ social media and email accounts to obtain the initial images.
- Joseph Iorio pleaded guilty to New York state crimes in relation to his sextortion of more than 30 women, according to an article published by NBC New York on March 23, 2018. Iorio allegedly ran “a social media forum where users shared explicit images of identifiable young women.” The source reports that Iorio contacted the featured women and threatened to disseminate their explicit content online if they did not provide additional photos and videos. ABC7 New York reported that, as described by the Suffolk County, New York district attorney, Iorio forced his victims to perform degrading and sometimes violent sexual acts, such as—in one instance—a victim sodomizing herself with a screwdriver.
- On June 1, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security announced the indictment of Benjamin Jenkins in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. According to court documents as described in the press release, Jenkins allegedly catfished more than 100 young girls over social media and convinced them to send sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves. If the victims refused to comply with Jenkins’s additional demands, the press release states, he threatened to disseminate their content online; in one instance, he posted a victim’s contact information along with photos, inviting others to message her to ask for sexual material. Some of Jenkin’s victims allegedly had to drink their own urine, lick toilet bowls, watch him masturbate and insert foreign objects into their bodies. Jenkins pleaded not guilty and the case is in pretrial proceedings as of March 2019.
- The U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York sentenced Joseph Lombardo to 15 years in prison following a guilty plea, reported the Buffalo News on March 7, 2017. Lombardo allegedly convinced three underage girls to send him sexually explicit photos of themselves, which he threatened to disseminate if they did not comply with his demands for additional explicit material.
- On Feb. 9, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona sentenced Donald Macarthur to 20 years in prison. According to a Justice Department press release, Macarthur posed as an “anorexia coach,” offering to help girls who frequented modeling and “pro-anorexia” websites lose weight. In exchange for his “services,” he allegedly demanded that his victims provide sexually explicit photos of themselves. If the girls refused, he allegedly would threaten to stop “coaching” them. The Justice Department stated that Macarthur may have had more than 50 other victims.
- A California state court sentenced Josh Manuel Magana to 31 years in prison for crimes related to his alleged sextortion of two minor girls. KTLA5 reported on July 19, 2017, that Magana began messaging the victims on social media and threatened to kill them and their families if they did not provide nude photos. In one case, according to law enforcement officials, Magana threatened to disseminate the photos if the victim did not have sex with him. The victim allegedly complied with this demand. On Jan. 15, 2019, the appellate court declined to hear his appeal, according to a representative of the relevant court via phone call.
- Anton Martynenko pleaded guilty in January 2016 to child pornography charges and was sentenced to 38 years in prison by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, the Washington Post reported. Posing as the female manager of a modeling agency on social media, Martynenko allegedly convinced 155 teenaged boys to send him sexual images and videos of themselves. According to prosecutors as cited by the Post, Martynenko threatened to disseminate the images and videos if the victims did not provide additional material. Prosecutors reported that Martynenko coerced at least three victims into performing sexual favors for him; two of these victims committed suicide.
- The New York Daily News reported on April 24, 2017, that Ruslan Mirvis was charged by prosecutors in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York for the sextortion of at least 14 minor girls. Mirvis allegedly pretended to be a 16-year-old boy online. Authorities alleged that Mirvis forced one victim to film herself performing oral sex on her two-year-old sister, the Daily News reported. Mirvis pleaded not guilty and the case is currently in pretrial proceedings as of March 2019, according to a representative of the court via phone call.
- A grand jury in the U.S. District for the District of Hawaii indicted Dustin Trey Miyakawa on May 16, 2018, according to a Department of Justice press release. Miyakawa allegedly met a minor female on Instagram after she responded to his advertisements as a photographer. During a private photo shoot at Miyakawa’s apartment, the indictment charges, he “took nude photographs of her, offered her money for sex, and then tried to extort her with the nude photographs when she refused his offer to accept money for sex.” Miyakawa pleaded not guilty. His case is currently set to go to trial in April 2019.
- Fox 56, the network’s local affiliate from the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania area, reports that Luis Manuel Montero was arrested on Pennsylvania state charges for allegedly threatening to disseminate sexually explicit pictures of a minor girl if she did not provide additional sexually explicit photos of herself. He was arrested for child pornography and stalking around June 2018. In January 2019, he pleaded guilty to criminal use of a communications facility and stalking. He was sentenced to three years of probation on March 11, 2019, according to court documents.
- In 2013, a New York state jury sentenced Michael J. Piznarski to one to three years in prison for charges related to alleged sextortion, as Goldman and Jin describe. Piznarski allegedly recorded his ex-girlfriend during sexual activity without her consent and threatened to disseminate the material if she did not engage in additional sexual activity with him, according to prosecutors. His conviction was affirmed on appeal.
- The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia sentenced Gerardo Perez Uribe to 10 years in prison for charges related to sextortion, according to a Nov. 9, 2017, Justice Department press release. Court documents state that Uribe convinced a 12-year-old girl to send him nude photographs by pretending to be a 13-year-old boy on Facebook, the press release states. After he received the photos, Uribe allegedly hacked the victim’s Facebook account and threatened to post her photos if she did not provide him with additional sexual material.
- On April 19, 2017, the Superior Court for the District of Columbia sentenced Lamont Delrico Roberts “to approximately nine years in prison for stalking, threatening, and assaulting a woman, and unlawfully disclosing graphic, sexual images of her.” According to a Department of Justice press release, Roberts threatened to disseminate sexually explicit photographs of his ex-girlfriend after she changed her phone number. This is an edge case because it remains unclear what, if anything, Roberts demanded from the victim to halt the dissemination.
- According to the Argus Leader, Nicholas Charles Schmidt in May 2018 “pleaded no contest to a fourth-degree rape charge” filed by South Dakota state prosecutors. The original arrest warrant alleged that Schmidt coerced a minor girl into sexual activity by threatening to disseminate a nude photo she had sent him. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison in September 2018, with that sentence suspended on the condition that he serve roughly additional 100 days in jail and six years of probation.
- An Ohio state court sentenced Richard D. Schnitker to 14 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to “pandering sexually oriented materials involving a minor” in 2014, according to court documents. Schnitker allegedly convinced girls aged nine to 14 to send sexual photos of themselves to him and threatened to disseminate these images if the victims refused to provide additional material. This case is included in Goldman and Jin’s compilation.
- In 2010, Mark Serrano was found guilty in California state court of attempted rape. As Goldman and Jin describe, prosecutors alleged that Serrano threatened to disseminate a sexually explicit video of his ex-girlfriend if she did not engage in sexual activity with him. The California State Court of Appeals described Serrano as threatening to send the video to increasingly personal recipients the longer the victim took to respond. The conviction was affirmed on appeal; and the California Supreme Court denied his petition for review, and a federal district court denied his subsequent habeas petition.
- The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida sentenced Justin Shawn Smith to 225 months in prison on May 30, 2017, after he pleaded guilty to producing child pornography. According to a Department of Justice press release, Smith allegedly catfished minor females online and convinced them to engage in sexually explicit conduct, often involving siblings or pets. He would then threaten to report their behavior to their parents or disseminate the content if they did not comply with his additional demands, the press release states. Homeland Security Investigations, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has identified roughly 31 potential victims in the United States.
- In the 2012 civil case Backlund v. Stone, Alyssa Backlund successfully sued Christopher Stone for sextortion-related behaviors and received over $1 million in damages, as Goldman and Jin note. According to court documents, Stone posted an image of a minor female masturbating next to a baby on Stickydrama.com, a website owned by Stone. The defendant inaccurately posted that Backlund was the person depicted in the photo and linked her Twitter handle to the image, Backlund alleged. A legal brief filed by Backlund states that a friend of Backlund’s discovered that the individual in the photo, who had a very similar name to Backlund, had been sextorted. Stone disseminated topless photos of the sextortion victim online and warned that he would continue if she did not stop talking to his roommates, according to Twitter messages between the victim and Backlund as described in court documents. It is unclear if the image with the infant was obtained under the duress of extortion.
- ABC13 reported on Jan. 25, 2017, that Kimberly Tamayo was arrested on charges filed by Texas state prosecutors, who alleged that she received “inappropriate photos” from a minor girl she met on social media. Later, authorities said, Tamayo threatened to disseminate the material if the victim did not send nude photos to Tamayo. Shortly after, Tamayo pleaded guilty. Instead of time in prison, she received a deferred adjudication, according to a representative of the relevant court reached by telephone.
- On June 21, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas sentenced Francisco Turrubiartes to 20 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to production of child pornography. According to a Justice Department press release, Turrubiartes threatened to disseminate nude images of one of his victims if she did not convince an additional victim to send him nude images as well. He then blackmailed the other victim for three years, court documents stated, threatening to disseminate the images of her if she did not provide more. Turrubiartes eventually requested that the victims send sexually explicit or nude photos of their two-year-old and six-year-old relatives, according to the Justice Department.
- In 2009, James Wood was convicted in California state court of sexual battery and attempting to dissuade a victim and witness from reporting a crime. As described by the appeals court, Wood allegedly sexually assaulted the victim, Christina H., while taking intimate photos of her in a professional setting. He threatened to disseminate the photos of the victim if she did not drop the police report that she filed against him, according to prosecutors. On appeal, the conviction of sexual battery was reversed and the second conviction affirmed. This is an edge case because it remains unclear to what extent Wood utilized modern technology in his alleged exploitation. This case is listed in Goldman and Jin’s report.
- The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania sentenced Hubert Young to 25 years in prison on Sept. 7, 2017. A Department of Justice press release states that Young pleaded guilty to catfishing at least 12 minor victims between January 2015 and June 2016. He allegedly convinced his victims to send him pornographic images of themselves, and threatened to post the images online if the victims did not send additional images.
- On March 19, 2018, the Watauga Democrat reported that an unnamed 21-year-old male admitted that he blackmailed a minor victim with nude photographs in an attempt to obtain more photos, according to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. At the time of this article’s publication, charges were still “pending review by the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” the paper reported.
- An unnamed male minor pleaded guilty to 12 felony charges, according to a Washington Superior Court judge. The Daily Chronicle from the Greater Lewis County Washington area reported on March 9, 2018, that while posing as a woman on social media, the perpetrator allegedly convinced male classmates to send him sexual images of themselves. The unidentified minor threatened to disseminate these images if the victims did not provide additional sexual material, he stated in a guilty plea. The alleged perpetrator was sentenced to counseling and probation.
- On Jan. 31, 2018, the International Business Times reported that through means unknown, an unnamed student in Kansas allegedly began to gather sexually explicit images of his classmates and threatened to disseminate these images if the victims did not provide additional sexual material. According to a report in the Topeka Capital-Journal, the alleged perpetrator may have had as many as 100 victims. It remains unclear if these allegations led to a criminal proceeding.
- Posing as a 19-year-old girl, a unnamed 24-year-old man allegedly convinced at least six boys to send him nude videos of themselves via Snapchat, according to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek dated Nov. 8, 2017. The perpetrator allegedly threatened to disseminate the material if the victims attempted to break contact.
Foreign Perpetrators of Sextortion for Sexual Gratification
- Canada: According the Kingston Whig-Standard of Ontario, Canada, Mark Gary Bedford was arrested in 2006 for sextortion of what authorities believed were “several hundred” victims in both Canada and the United Kingdom. Bedford pleaded guilty to coercing victims under the age of 15 to perform sexual acts in front of their webcams. In one instance, according to court documents, Bedford sent sexually explicit photographs of one victim to her friend, threatening to disseminate the photo if the friend did not comply with his demands. He was sentenced to three years in prison and later spent 27 additional months in prison as a result of violating the terms of his peace bond, a court order requiring a defendant to respect certain conditions during the duration of the bond. Authorities again arrested him for violating his peace bond in June 2018, according to Global News, part of the Global Television network in Canada.
- Australia: While posing as Justin Bieber on social media, Gordon Douglas Chalmers allegedly convinced 157 victims to send him sexually explicit images of themselves, the newspaper the Australian reports. He then allegedly threatened to disseminate the material if the victims did not comply with his additional demands. Though the paper does not explicitly describe Chalmers’s demands, it suggests that Chalmers sometimes requested that his victims insert foreign objects into their bodies or perform sexual acts on other children. The case is ongoing and a trial date has yet to be set as of January 2019, according to the Queensland Courts.
- Netherlands: CBC/Radio-Canada reported on March 16, 2017, that a judge in the Netherlands sentenced Aydin C. Coban to more than 10 years in prison for fraud and blackmail of 34 victims. Posing sometimes as a young boy online and sometimes as a young girl, Coban convinced his victims to send him sexually explicit photos, prosecutors said. He allegedly threatened to disseminate the material if his victims did not comply with his demands. Coban appealed his case in October 2018, the Canadian outlet Global News reported.
- United Kingdom: Posing as a female artist online, Matthew Falder coerced 46 victims into sending him sexually explicit “modeling” photos, according to his guilty plea as reported by the Guardian on Feb. 19, 2018. At least three of Falder’s alleged victims attempted to take their own lives. On Oct. 16, 2018, the BBC reported that Falder’s sentence had been reduced from 32 to 25 years. The article adds that Falder allegedly often shared procured images of his victims on web forums “dedicated to sharing images and videos of rape, torture, paedophilia and degradation.”
- Ireland: On Jan. 26, 2018, the Irish Times reported that Matthew Horan pleaded guilty to convincing an 11-year-old girl to send him sexually explicit material of herself and threatening to disseminate the images if she did not comply with his demands for additional explicit photos. The victim allegedly told Horan that she would kill herself, the Times wrote. He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison.
- United Kingdom: The Guardian reported on Sept. 4, 2017, that Paul Leighton was convicted of rape for convincing as many as 100 children to send him sexually explicit images of themselves by posing as a child on Facebook. According the Guardian’s description of the charges, he threatened to disseminate these images if they did not provide additional material that he requested. In one instance, he allegedly demanded that a 14-year-old boy rape his one-year-old niece, the Guardian reported. The boy was subsequently arrested for rape and incest. Leighton was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
- Canada: On Aug. 17, 2017, authorities arrested Skylar Pantherbone on child pornography and other charges, as reported by Global News, part of the Global Television network in Canada. In March 2017, a victim reported to a school resource officer that Pantherbone had hacked into her social media account and was using photographs in those accounts to sextort her. He was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison after pleading guilty, according to the CJOC-FM radio station in Lethbridge, Alberta.
- United Kingdom: The BBC reported on May 1, 2018, that Joshua Probert pleaded guilty to convincing 26 victims, 11 of them children, to send him sexually explicit photos of themselves, operating under a false identity. According to the BBC, he threatened to disseminate these images if the victims did not comply with his increasingly degrading demands. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
- Sweden: Bjorn Samstrom received a 10-year sentence for rape on Nov. 30, 2017, according to an article published by the National Post, a Canadian newspaper. Samstrom allegedly convinced 27 victims in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. to perform sexual acts on video for him and then threatened to disseminate the material and harm their families if they refused to comply with his additional demands. Some of these alleged demands for which Samstrom was convicted included victims performing sex acts with toys or with dogs. On appeal, a Swedish court upheld his conviction in April 2018 and upgraded 15 counts of aggravated sexual assault or sexual coercion to rape or rape of a child, according to the Canadian newspaper the Star.
- Australia: On Jan. 21, 2015, the Brisbane Times reported on the case of Luan Tahiraj, who, prosecutors alleged, hacked the computers and controlled the webcams of his victims. Tahiraj allegedly demanded that the victims perform sexual acts in front of the webcam, threatening to destroy their computers and hack their accounts if they declined. He uploaded some of these videos to child porn-sharing websites, a court found. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Queensland affirmed his conviction but reduced his prison sentence from 12 to eight years.
- Canada: Marco Viscomi allegedly hacked the accounts of as many as 80 young female victims and obtained their nude photographs, according to the Toronto Sun. In one instance, Viscomi allegedly threatened to disseminate these images and destroy her computer with a virus if she did not sexually abuse her younger sister, the paper reported. Since this case was opened in 2012, Viscomi, a Canadian resident, has been fighting extradition to the United States, where federal authorities are seeking to try him for the alleged sextortion detailed above. According to the Ontario Court of Appeals via phone call, Viscomi appealed his case on Oct. 31, 2018, to a panel of three judges who are still deliberating as of January 2019.
- Canada: Seamus Martin Weeks allegedly perpetrated actions against at least 15 minor victims that authorities claim meet all the criteria of a sextortion case, according to an article published by the Canadian newspaper the Times Colonist on Oct. 22, 2016. This is an edge case, because while the Times Colonist stated that the charges had “the hallmarks” of a sextortion case—“communicating with minors for the purpose of committing an offence, making, possessing and accessing child pornography and extortion”—police would not confirm to the paper whether Weeks’s case was truly sextortion. Furthermore, there is limited information regarding the role of modern technology in this case. Weeks pleaded guilty to 10 counts—including three counts of extortion, one count of luring, one count of possession of child pornography, one count of invitation to sexual touching, three counts of criminal harassment and one count of threatening—and was sentenced to a year and a half in prison in November 2018, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
- Canada: According to a Fort St. John Royal Canadian Mounted Police Integrated Child Exploitation Team, an unnamed minor allegedly convinced multiple minor victims to send revealing photos of themselves by posing as their friends, as reported by the Times Colonist on Feb. 16, 2018. While the news report refers to this case as sextortion, it remains unclear whether and precisely how the alleged perpetrator ever blackmailed the victims.
Domestic Victims’ Accounts of Sextortion for Sexual Gratification
- A self-identified victim wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian published on Nov. 19, 2013. In the post, the victim alleges that her ex-boyfriend threatened to auction her nude photos on eBay if she did not “tell him the truth” regarding how many new sexual partners she had. The victim and her ex-boyfriend were located in Baltimore, Maryland, at the time of the sextortion.
- Thorn and the Crimes against Children Research Center of the University of New Hampshire published a sextortion report on June 22, 2016, analyzing data they had collected. They advertised a survey on Facebook between July 17 and Sept. 30, 2015, that sought to determine if respondents “had been targets of sextortion.” The advertisements were constructed to target “English-speaking males and females in the United States ages 18 to 25.” The survey identified 1,631 victims of sextortion.
- In an article published by the Guardian U.S. dated Aug. 23, 2017, covering sexual harassment, an individual cited in the post describes a perpetrator allegedly attempting to blackmail a woman on a dating app into engaging in sexual activity by threatening to disseminate screenshots of their conversations.
- On Sept. 24, 2017, the Deseret News, a newspaper from Salt Lake City, Utah, published “A warning to parents,” educating Utah families about sextortion. The paper lists several different cases. In one, a perpetrator allegedly contacted a victim on Facebook and Instagram, threatening to disseminate a nude photo he claimed to already have of her if she did not provide additional sexual material according to the warrant. In a similar case, a warrant stated that the perpetrator threatened that “if [the victim] blocked this message he would send out photos to everyone at the school.” In a third case, the victim allegedly received messages from a stranger online who requested nude photos and claimed to already have other nude photos of her, St. George, Utah, police say. Authorities allege that the perpetrator told her that he would disseminate the photo if she blocked the message. The story also includes instances of sextortion for financial gain, listed below.
- A victim of sextortion shared her story with the Pittsburgh City Paper in an article published on Nov. 22, 2017. The victim alleges that her ex-boyfriend threatened to disseminate her nude images (photographed without her knowledge) and kill her if she did not return to the relationship.
- On Dec. 19, 2017, ABC7 Denver reported the story of a sextortion victim. The mother of the 15-year-old victim alleged that the perpetrator convinced the victim to send him nude images of herself via Snapchat. He then allegedly threatened to disseminate these images, especially to her boyfriend, if the victim did not perform sexual favors for the perpetrator. It remains unclear if the victim filed any charges. At the time of publication, the mother said “the school was doing nothing” about the situation.
- A victim of sextortion published her story with Seventeen Magazine on March 6, 2018. The victim alleges that the perpetrator disseminated nude images of her when she was 15 years old when she refused to send him more. This is an edge case because it is unclear if the perpetrator threatened dissemination, or if he simply disseminated them without warning as an act of revenge when the victim failed to provide additional material.
Domestic Perpetrators of Sextortion for Financial Gain
- Paul Azzara was convicted in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2005 of mailing threatening communications and attempted extortion, as noted by Goldman and Jin. As described by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the government alleged that the defendant demanded $3 million from his ex-girlfriend’s father in exchange for not disseminating sexual recordings the victim created consensually when Azzara and the victim were dating. His conviction was affirmed on appeal.
- According to a 2015 complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission, Craig Brittain ran a revenge-porn website on which victims had to pay money to remove nude images of themselves. Brittain, who briefly ran for Sen. Jeff Flake’s Senate seat in Arizona, allegedly obtained the images both by soliciting them from readers of his site and by posing as a woman on Craigslist. This is an edge case because Brittian allegedly requested money after he had posted the images, which—while still a form of sexual exploitation—may not constitute extortion.
- The Sun-Sentinel from Florida reported on Oct. 21, 2016, that, according to court documents, Daniel Louis Carson posted a video of himself and his ex-girlfriend having sex on a pornographic website. The video had been recorded consensually when the two were in a relationship. Carson demanded money in exchange for removing the content from the site, the Sun-Sentinel quotes a search warrant as stating. This is an edge case: Carson’s alleged actions may not constitute sextortion because he requested money after posting the video. Carson pleaded guilty to one count of extortion and one count of sexual cyberharassment and was sentenced to 366 days’ incarceration, with 44 of those days credited as time served.
- Christina Hakes and Scott Kuhl were convicted of extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion in Michigan state court for a plot in which Hakes allegedly recorded sex tapes with Roland Jersevic, a former Michigan state representative, while they dated. Later, court documents say, Hakes stole the videos and gave them to Kuhl, who created a compilation of the tapes. Hakes allegedly threatened to disseminate the compilation if the victim did not pay her $100,000 and provide her with health insurance, among other demands. Kuhl’s conviction was affirmed on appeal. This is an edge case because it remains unclear to what extent the defendants utilized modern technology in the alleged exploitation. It is included in Goldman and Jin’s compilation.
- Jonathan Todd “Action” Jackson was charged in California state court on May 3, 2018, with trying to extort actor Kevin Hart, according to CBS News. Prosecutors alleged that Jackson secretly filmed Hart while Hart was engaging in extramarital sexual activity. According to the government, Jackson threatened to release the video to celebrity news websites if Hart did not pay a certain sum of money. According to the court via phone call, the case is ongoing as of January 2019.
- According to an article published by CNN on Oct. 29, 2018, Lauren McCluskey reported to University of Utah campus police that she had received messages on Oct. 12, 2018, from her ex-boyfriend Melvin Rowland, or potentially from his friends, threatening to post compromising photos of McCluskey and Rowland online if she did not pay $1,000. Twelve days after McCluskey made these reports, Rowland murdered McCluskey and committed suicide a few hours later.
- Police allege that, posing under a false identity on Facebook, Devon Raj Sharma convinced a woman he knew personally to send him sexual images of herself, as reported by the East Valley Tribune, a publication from Phoenix, Arizona, on April 2, 2017. Later, authorities say, Sharma contacted the victim from a different fake profile and claimed to have found her explicit images on the dark web, offering to remove them for a certain sum of money. Sharma pleaded not guilty to charges of computer tampering and theft by extortion in Arizona state court. Though his trial date was originally set for January 2019, a court filing from that month shows that prosecutors plan to dismiss the case and reindict the defendant, though it is not clear on what charges.
- In 2015, Douglas Tarlow pleaded guilty to extortion charges in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. According to the criminal complaint, Tarlow distributed nude images of his ex-girlfriend to her mother and threatened to disseminate them further if the mother did not pay him a certain sum of money. The government dismissed the charges against Tarlow in May 2016 after he completed the terms of a diversion agreement. This case is included in Goldman and Jin’s compilation.
- The Miami Herald reported on July 28, 2017, that Wesley Victor and Hencha Voigt were arrested on charges that they threatened to disseminate sexual images of a social media star if she did not pay $18,000. Victor and Voigt both pleaded not guilty to charges of extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion and unlawful use of a communication device, according to Florida state court records. Their cases are ongoing as of March 2019, with the trial date scheduled for April 29.
- When a tenant was behind on her rent, an unnamed landlord allegedly threatened her with sexual violence, according to a resource page on sextortion compiled by the organization Legal Momentum. Later, Legal Momentum states, the landlord broke into the victim’s apartment and stole her hard drive, then threatened to disseminate sexual photos found on the hard drive if the victim did not pay rent. Legal Momentum states that the landlord pleaded guilty to grand larceny.
- The State, a newspaper from South Carolina, reported on Nov. 28, 2018, that inmates in South Carolina prisons ran sextortion schemes with the aid of outside accomplices, targeting more than 400 military service members. These schemes targeted officers and enlisted service members in the Air Force, the Army, the Navy and the Marines. Alleged perpetrators created fictitious profiles on dating sites frequented by military personnel. After convincing the service member to exchange nude photographs, one of the schemers would call the service member, falsely claiming that the service member had exchanged nude photos with a minor. The caller then demanded money in exchange for not reporting the relationship to military authorities. In total, the victims paid $560,000 to the blackmailers, the story reports. Law enforcement officials in South Carolina unsealed indictments against 15 people, including five inmates, in relation to the alleged sextortion. The article directly names two of the alleged sextortionists, Jimmy Dunbar Jr. and Wendell Wilkins, both of whom were inmates. Dunbar pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering, extortion and wire fraud in federal court on March 15, 2019. Wilkins pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering, extortion and wire fraud; as of March 2019, his case is ongoing.
Foreign Perpetrators of Sextortion for Financial Gain
- Australia: On July 28, 2015, an Australian court rejected the appeal of Shaun Adamson, The Age reported. Adamson originally pleaded guilty to posing as a teenage boy on the platform Chatroulette, an online anonymous chat website, and convincing 26 girls under the age of 16 to engage in sexual conversation and sexual acts over a webcam. According to The Age, Adamson “convinced some of his victims to help him try to catch paedophiles and blackmail them.” In one instance, an adult man agreed to meet with him, under the impression that Adamson was a 13-year-old girl. Adamson recorded evidence of the interaction and proceeded to blackmail the man for $3,000. The man was “later charged with procuring and grooming offenses,” the article reports.
- Philippines: On Dec. 9, 2016, the Daily Mail covered the arrest of another cyber sextortion syndicate in the Philippines. Maria Cecilia Caparas-Regalachuelo was arrested for allegedly running a large sextortion operation with co-conspirators Archie Gian Tolin and Mark Andrey Rafol Sesaldo. In the operation, girls as young as 12 years old convinced foreign men to engage in sexually explicit video chats. The employees then threatened to release a recording of the men video chatting with the minor if they did not pay a large sum of money, according to police cited in the story. According to the Mail, Caparas was arrested in 2014 along with dozens of others for sextortion activities. Caparas was arrested again in September 2016; Sesaldo was also arrested, though the Mail does not specify on what charges. The United Kingdom has issued an arrest warrant for Tolin, the Guardian reported in 2017.
- Romania: On Aug. 29, 2017, the Guardian reported that Iulian Enache was sentenced to four years in prison by a Romanian court for sextortion activities. Enache pleaded guilty to convincing the victim to share sexually explicit photos of himself online and then sending the photos to classmates after the victim did not pay Enache money. The alleged victim, 17-year-old Ronan Hughes, took his own life. The Romanian court’s ruling is available here.
- Singapore: Alexander Soh Zhi Ren pleaded guilty to 10 charges including “theft, receiving and disposing of stolen goods and forgery” according to The Star, a tabloid from Malaysia, on July 14, 2012. He committed sextortion with his girlfriend, Yap Siew Ting, who was 16 years old at the time. According to the Star, the perpetrators allegedly convinced men to send nude videos of themselves online, which they then threatened to release if the men did not pay an unknown sum of money to the couple. Unlike a typical catfishing case, this case constitutes angling, because Yap did not hide behind a fictitious identity while sextorting her victim. Yap was sentenced to probation; Soh received five years in prison and a caning.
- Philippines: The Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group arrested 20 different suspects in connection with a sextortion ring in the Philippines, according to a Northbound Philippines report published on June 23, 2016. Posing as attractive young women, the perpetrators allegedly friended foreign men on social media websites and then engaged in sexual video chats with them. The perpetrators recorded these chats and then threatened to disseminate the videos if the victims did not pay an initial sum of money, sometimes as much as $2,000, according to authorities cited in the story.
- Italy: A Europol press release on Dec. 23, 2016, announced that an unnamed Italian perpetrator allegedly coerced a Norwegian girl into sending him sexually explicit material of herself, which he threatened to publish if she did not provide additional material. Europol arranged cooperation between Norwegian and Italian law enforcement. At the time of the press release, the investigation was ongoing.
- El Salvador: During an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, published on Aug. 29, 2016, Neil Walsh, the head of the United Nations global program on cyber crime, discussed some of the U.N.’s most recent achievements. He details a sextortion case in El Salvador in which the perpetrator convinced 54 girls to send sexually explicit photos to him while posing as a young boy. The perpetrator allegedly threatened to disseminate the material if the victims did not pay a certain sum of money. Walsh’s description suggests that the police have identified the perpetrator, though he remains unnamed in the publication.
- Ivory Coast: The Ivory Coast “has become a hotspot” for perpetrators of sextortion for financial gain according to a BBC video from May 25, 2018. The BBC interviewed an anonymous perpetrator in the country, who described blackmailing victims for money “without remorse”: The victims are “thousands of miles away, so how are you going to say sorry?”
Domestic Victims’ Accounts of Sextortion for Financial Gain
- The Washington Post reported on a May 2016 announcement by the George Mason University Police to university students and staff that two students had been victimized in a sextortion scheme. According to the authorities, the students agreed to send sexual videos of themselves to strangers online. The strangers then allegedly requested money in exchange for not making the videos public.
- On May 12, 2016, WCMH in Columbus, Ohio published a sextortion victim’s story. The victim reported that he received a friend request from an attractive female stranger on Facebook, who eventually convinced him to perform sexual acts on a video chat with her. The perpetrator then threatened to release the video on the internet if the victim did not pay a large sum of money, the victim reported.
- The local CBS station in Baltimore covered a sextortion scandal at the University of Maryland on Oct. 10, 2016. A student at University of Maryland College Park paid more than $1,000 to someone online in exchange for that person’s not releasing a sexually explicit video of him, according to police at the University of Maryland.
- ABC7 Chicago reported on Nov. 10, 2016, that Illinois state representative Ron Sandack accepted a Facebook friend request from a woman he did not know, police records described by the news report show. Sandack agreed to a Skype video chat with the woman. According to ABC, documents reveal that a short time later, the woman allegedly demanded money in exchange for not publicizing the video. Authorities believe the scheme that snared Sandack operated from within the Philippines.
- The United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations recorded at least 40 reported instances of sextortion for money between 2014 and 2017, according to an article posted on the Ninth Air Force’s website. In these instances, the victims met people whom they believed to be attractive female strangers online, who convinced the victims to send sexually explicit material of themselves. The perpetrators then threatened to release this material, either to the public or within the victim’s own chain of command, if the victims did not pay a certain sum of money.
- According to Fox13 Salt Lake City, police in Logan, Utah, report that at least 12 people in the city fell victim to sextortion schemes in the year preceding Jan. 12, 2017. They describe the average scam as involving a perpetrator who contacts victims online and then convinces them to send sexually explicit videos or nude photos of themselves to the perpetrator. The scammer then requests money in exchange for not releasing the content of the photo or video.
- In a case reported to police in Nyssa, Oregon, the victim accepted a Facebook friend request from a woman he did not know, according to the Argus Observer on Jan. 20, 2017. The perpetrator allegedly demanded a nude video of the victim or “his family would be hurt.” Six months later, police say, the perpetrator contacted the victim and threatened to disseminate the video if the victim did not pay $300. When the victim refused to pay, the perpetrator posted the video online, the Observer reported.
- Three victims in Denver, Colorado, believed they were chatting with potential lovers whom they met on social media or an online dating app, 9News wrote on Feb. 28, 2017. After sending sexually explicit videos, their interlocutors threatened to disseminate the videos to their friends on social media if the victims did not pay a large sum of money, according to local police. 9News reports that these three victims all reported their alleged sextortion in the same week.
- The Deseret News’s September 2017 article educating Utah families about sextortion includes instances of sextortion for financial gain, as well as the instances of sextortion for money listed above. In one instance, a victim in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, accepted a Facebook friend request from a woman he did not know and agreed to a nude video chat with the woman, police say. Afterward, the perpetrator allegedly demanded $3,000 in exchange for not posting the video on YouTube and Facebook. In another case, a victim in Uintah County, Utah, accepted a Facebook friend request from a woman he did not know. The victim agreed to a nude video chat with the woman, according to the sheriff’s department investigating the case. Afterward, the perpetrator allegedly demanded $500 in exchange for not posting the video online.
- CBS Detroit reported in November 2017 that two students at the University of Michigan sent pictures and videos of themselves to strangers on Facebook. Once they did, the perpetrators allegedly requested money to refrain from posting the material publicly.
- A Utah resident met an attractive woman online and sent her a nude photo upon her request, according to a Daily Beast article published on Jan. 18, 2018. Shortly thereafter, the victim’s family says, the perpetrator requested money in exchange for not sharing the picture with the victim’s friends on Facebook or with his place of employment. The victim committed suicide the next day. The publication criticized local police for what they perceive as inadequate investigation that “repeatedly cut corners.”
- On Feb. 16, 2018, Local Memphis published an article about a sextortion scam that exploits the severity of child pornography laws. In the operation that targeted dozens of victims in 2017, perpetrators convinced the victims to send racy photos, authorities say. After an exchange of sexual content, the perpetrators allegedly claimed that they were minors and allegedly threatened to report victims for consumption of “child pornography” if they did not pay a large sum of money.
- In a new scam reported by Gizmodo on July 12, 2018, perpetrators sent anonymous emails to victims claiming to have stolen their passwords, used said passwords to install malware on the victims’ computers, and used said malware to record videos of the victims watching porn and masturbating. The source alleges that the perpetrators then demanded money in exchange for not releasing these supposed videos.
Foreign Victims’ Accounts of Sextortion
- Canada: In August 2014, the Toronto Sun wrote a story covering the suicide of a 19-year-old sextortion victim, Maxime Forgues. The perpetrator convinced Forgues to record and send a sexually explicit video in response to a video sent by the perpetrator, police say. The perpetrator allegedly then claimed to be a minor and threatened to release “evidence” of Forgues consuming “child pornography” if Forgues did not pay thousands of dollars. Forgues took his own life.
- India: According to a piece published in the Times of India on Aug. 11, 2016, the Uttar Pradesh police have received hundreds of reports of blackmail for both sexual and financial gain over sexual photos.
- Germany/Switzerland: On Sept. 28, 2016, the Berliner Kurier published a victim’s account of his sextortion. The victim, a German man living in Switzerland, shares that a female stranger friended him on Skype and allegedly convinced the victim to engage in a sexually explicit video chat. The perpetrator allegedly threatened to disseminate a recording of the interaction if the victim did not pay a certain sum of money. After the original payment, the perpetrator continued to demand money in increasing amounts, according to the victim’s narrative.
- Netherlands: In 2014, HelpWanted, an agency dedicated to helping victims of sextortion, received 190 reports from victims, according to an AD News post from Oct. 10, 2016. The agency received 440 reports in the first six months of 2016, a dramatic increase from 370 in the entire previous year. HelpWanted details a case in which a perpetrator engaged in a sexual chat online with a stranger who then claimed that the victim had been chatting with a 14-year-old girl. The perpetrator allegedly threatened to disseminate video of the victim consuming child pornography if the victim did not pay a certain sum of money.
- Morocco: BBC News posted a video on Oct. 27, 2016, describing sextortion emanating from syndicates in Oued Zem, Morocco. In this town, extortion is a thriving industry, with over 50 money transfer offices in the town. Sextortionists there commonly catfish victims into engaging in sex on Skype, according to the BBC, and then threaten to disseminate the content if the victim does not pay, the video documents. The source claims that perpetrators will commonly target Arab or religious Muslim men, because the taboo nature of sex in these communities increases the potential social impact from the dissemination of a sexually explicit video.
- Australia: The Australian government received “up to 53” reports of sextortion each month from January through November 2016, according to an Australian Broadcasting Company post from November 2016. In these scams, perpetrators allegedly formed online romantic relationships with the victims in order to gain sexual content, which they allegedly used to blackmail the victims for money.
- Malaysia: In May 2013, a woman filed a police report, alleging that another woman took a photograph of her while she was naked and unconscious, as reported by the New Straits Times on May 11, 2017. The perpetrator threatened to disseminate the photo if the victim did not pay RM3,000, according to the victim’s account of events. At the time of publication, the police had investigated the case on the grounds of invasion of privacy; but it remains unclear if authorities charged or sentenced the perpetrator. This is an edge case because it remains unclear to what extent the perpetrator utilized modern technology in her alleged exploitation.
- Switzerland: Radio Télévision Suisse reported on June 19, 2017, that the Swiss police received 161 reports of sextortion in 2016.
- Italy: A new TV series documents what appear to be real instances of sextortion in Italy, as published on the Advertiser on June 19, 2017. In one instance, a “pedophile entrepreneur” threatened 13- and 14-year-old girls for sexual images on Facebook. In another instance, a 15 year old was held “hostage” in a sextortion scheme by a stranger on Facebook. Another story describes a 30-year-old man who targeted minors, using psychological and physical threats to coerce them into sending him sexually explicit material and sometimes even to engage in sexual activity with him. This is an edge case because the source lacks sufficient detail to determine if these cases meet the qualifications for sextortion.
- Malta: According to a July 30, 2017, article published by the Times of Malta, police sources in that country claim they receive multiple reports a week of victims sextorted online for money. Between Jan. 1 and July 30, 2017, the police received almost 50 reports involving minors. The police told the paper that for years, many sextortion investigations linked the perpetrators to criminal rings in Africa.
- Norway: On March 5, 2018, the Local reported that according to Norwegian police, a perpetrator met a victim in an online chat site and exchanged sexual content with the victim. The perpetrator then claimed to have hacked the victim’s computer and Facebook account, threatening to disseminate the material if the victim did not pay a certain sum of money, authorities said. The victim took his or her own life. A police investigation has uncovered many similar instances of online extortion of young men.
- United Kingdom: On March 7, 2018, the BBC published a first-person account of sextortion. Comedian Joel Dommett writes that he received a message from a female stranger on Twitter requesting video sex over Skype. According to Dommett, the perpetrator took pictures of Dommett during said interaction without his knowledge. Two years later, Dommett said, the perpetrator inquired as to how much Dommett would be willing to pay to stop the dissemination of the photos.
- United Kingdom: The National Crime Agency received 428 reported cases of sextortion in 2015, the BBC reported. According to Irish News, the agency received 864 reported cases between Nov. 30, 2015, and Nov. 30, 2016. The BBC adds that the National Crime Agency received 1,304 reports of instances of sextortion in 2017. In victims’ accounts published by Irish News, some victims described meeting female strangers on Facebook who requested to move to Skype conversations. After convincing the victim to send sexually explicit material, the victims said, the perpetrators threatened to disseminate the material if the victims did not pay them.
- Chile: Authorities report that sextortion scams have been occurring for 10 years in Chile, according to an article in La Cuarta de Todos published in May 2018. In these scams, an attractive woman from a Spanish-speaking country allegedly meets the victim online, asks for friendship, sends sexual material to the victim and asks for the victim to do the same. The perpetrator then allegedly asks for money in exchange for not disseminating the material on Facebook. The source reports that 12 complaints of sextortion were filed in 2017. Between January 2018 and March 2018, 10 complaints were filed, a marked increase in reporting of suspected sextortion.
- Canada: Halifax police received six reports of sextortion between Jan. 1 and June 3, 2018, according to a Global News Canada post from June 2018. In these reports, the perpetrators met the victims online and convinced the victims to send sexual images or videos of themselves, according to police. The perpetrators then allegedly threatened to disseminate this material if the victims did not pay a certain sum of money.
- South Africa: A victim, a South African businessman, alleges that someone altered a Facebook photo of him to make it appear sexual, Sowetan Live reported on June 6, 2018. According to the victim, the perpetrator threatened to disseminate the image if he did not pay a certain sum of money, according to the report. A South African private investigator stated that her office receives complaints of sextortion up to five times a day.
Domestic Perpetrators of Sextortion for Miscellaneous Gain
- Akhil Patel allegedly threatened to hurt his ex-girlfriend by publishing “stuff” if she did not respond to his messages, according to a lawsuit filed by the ex-girlfriend. The lawsuit charged that Patel posted sexually explicit images of the victim of YouTube and porn sites and sent the links to the victim’s family members, according to court documents. A Texas appeals court affirmed the jury’s judgment against Patel.
- North Carolina law enforcement accused a 16-year-old student of allegedly targeting male classmates by pretending to be a female on social media, ABC11 Eyewitness News reported on June 2, 2016. Prosecutors alleged that, once the defendant convinced the victims to send a sexually explicit image, he threatened to disseminate the images if the victims did not provide their social media passwords, according to the Fayetteville Observer.