Blackmailed on Facebook: A twisted look at digital demands

(WTEN Photo)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – It starts with a harmless friend request, but then it takes a nasty turn.

To protect his privacy, WTEN will not identify a young man from the Capital Region who was a victim to a scheme on Facebook. Throughout the story, he will be called “Sam.”

“This is completely freaking me out right now, and I don’t want to lose everything I have,” Sam said.

Like millions of people, Sam is on Facebook and recently got a friend request.

“Like anyone else, I’ll look at it and say, ‘Is this person friends with anybody that I know?’” he said. “And they were. They had a few mutual friends, and it was a pretty girl, so I was, like, ‘Ok.’”

A couple of days later, she sent a private message.

At first it was small talk – shopping, fashion – but then she steered the conversation toward sex.

“It went from talking and next thing you know, ‘Do you wanna video chat with me? Are you alone? Where are you? Is there a place you can video chat that’s just me and you?’” Sam explained.

Sam hit the video chat button, and a girl appeared on the screen. She took her clothes off and asked Sam to do the same. He did.

“And she would say, ‘Show me your face. Show me this; show me that; yadda, yadda, yadda,’” Sam said.

What Sam didn’t say is he touched himself on camera. The second he did, the girl disappeared, and Sam’s image popped up on his screen.

“It showed my face; showed me what I was doing, and I stepped back and said, ‘What is this?’” he said.

It was blackmail.

A message came next that told Sam to stay calm and he now had two choices: pay $5,000 or have the video put on the internet.

“’If you don’t give me the money and meet my demands, I’m putting this up on YouTube,’” Sam recalled the message saying.

A YouTube link appeared. Sam clicked it, and there he was doing what he was doing minutes earlier already uploaded to YouTube.

The blackmailer said Sam’s family, friends and coworkers would all get the link if he didn’t pay.

“I immediately stepped back, and like, my whole gut turned and just – I was scared,” he said.

Sam’s not alone. The internet is filled with similar horror stories.

“It’s something that we battle with constantly,” Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said. “We try to educate kids.”

Police said that as embarrassing as it is, victims shouldn’t suffer in silence.

“I know you’re gonna have to swallow a little pride, but you’re gonna have to talk to police and try to give us a shot at trying to trace it back,” Apple said. “And a lot of them do come from out of the country but there are people stupid enough to try this from inside the country. And we can track that. We can work with the FBI; we can work with local authorities and trace that back.”

IT experts said there’s a lesson in it for everyone.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re on your cell phone, laptop,” NEWS10 IT Engineer Anthony Cassone said. “If you’re using Skype, or if you are using some other video conferencing, Facetime, if it can be viewed by another person at their end, they can capture what you’re saying, what you’re doing, and do whatever they want with it.”

Sam didn’t pay the money and had YouTube remove the video. He blocked all contact with the blackmailer, but he still lives in fear.

“A few times a week I’ll go on YouTube and type in what the title was put as and try to check that; check Google and Facebook and stuff like that,” he said.

A ticking time bomb that could go off at any time and anywhere. A lifetime of worry over a 10 second mistake.

“The bottom line is, if you gotta think about it, don’t do it,” Apple said.

Research is showing sextortion is a growing problem that’s allowing women and children to be manipulated online.

In a first of its kind report on the issue, the Brookings Institution calls it a new form of sexual assault and suggests there are thousands of sextortion victims.

They are overwhelmingly women and children.

The report, released on Wednesday, is aimed at raising awareness and proposing a federal law to ensure perpetrators are criminally charged.

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