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Sextortion: “It’s a trap!”

Photo illustration for sexual extortion awareness

Sexual extortion, often called “sextortion,” continues to pose a significant threat to netizens and cyber surfers everywhere—even in the military. Special agents with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations are combatting sextortion through community outreach and education. The office also actively investigates such threats against the Air Force and its people. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Sexual extortion, often called “sextortion,” poses a significant threat to cyber surfers everywhere—even in the military.

“Most would say younger people in their 20s are more vulnerable because they are not mature or responsible enough to know better; however, such crimes can impact anyone at any age—male or female,” said Christine Watson, 39th Air Base Wing chief information protection manager.

Sextortion begins when a victim is approached on social media and seduced into engaging in online sexual activities, which are recorded without his or her knowledge or consent. The victim is later threatened with public exposure and embarrassment if he or she does not pay a specified sum of money to the perpetrator.

“In my opinion, people are more likely to fall into a cybercrime such as sextortion because they are looking for a connection with someone,” said Watson. “The person on the other end makes them feel needed, wanted or even loved. They may become comfortable enough and share sexual acts, messages or pictures online—which then are used against them."

Special agents with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) are combatting sextortion through community outreach and education. The office also actively investigates such threats against the Air Force and its people.

“A threat such as sexual extortion—which often goes unreported—jeopardizes the member’s ability to effectively carry out the Air Force mission,” said Special Agent David Forsythe, OSI Detachment 522 operations officer. “OSI serves a key role in working with victims of sexual extortion to better detect this threat and mitigate its impact on both the military member and our national security.”

Forsythe explained that sextortion also opens up service members to other forms of blackmail such as demands for sensitive military information. Military members are also attractive targets for perpetrators due to their financial stability in comparison to civilian counterparts, he added.

“Service members possess security clearances, meaning they could potentially have knowledge of military tactics, training and other operational security items of interest to potential adversaries,” said Forsythe. “Service members worldwide and across all ranks and services have been victimized by sextortion.”

According to OSI, people should take steps to protect themselves from cybercrimes such as sextortion. This includes refraining from engaging in sexually explicit activities online such as posting or exchanging compromising imagery. Social media users should also adjust their social media privacy settings to limit information available to unknown persons. Thirdly, users should turn off electronic devices and cover webcams when not in use.

Members suspecting a case of sextortion or other cybercrimes are encouraged to report it to their local OSI or online at www.osi.af.mil.

“Trust your instincts; perpetrators are highly sophisticated and able to trick their victims into a false sense of security,” said Forsythe. “If you have suspicions about the person you are communicating with, cease contact with them. Vigilance is important because cyber threats will continue to evolve. The more awareness and reporting we as an Air Force receive, the better we can preserve both the personal well-being of our Airmen and ultimately our national security.”

Whenever someone approaches you online asking for nudes, just remember this quote from a popular movie: “It’s a trap!”