The new ‘s’ word: Murray State Police investigate “sextortion” reports

Reports of sextortion are on the rise nationwide and at Murray State. (Jillian Rush/The News)

Daniella Tebib

News Editor

Sextortion has been on the rise both nationwide and on Murray State’s campus.

Jamie Herring, chief of the Murray State Police Department, said “sextortion” is the name of a type of scam where the victim meets someone online, typically through social media or a dating platform. The scammer then requests explicit photos of the victim or takes screenshots from a webcam session and uses the photos as blackmail.

“The scammer receives these photographs and then holds the photos as ‘ransom’ until a fee is paid or more photos are sent,” Herring said. “If the fee is not paid by the victim or more photos are not sent, the suspect threatens to send the photographs to others, usually the victim’s friends and family, on social media.”

Herring also said scammers often target younger men and women in their teens or twenties.

“Young people are using various social media and dating apps to share nude photos of themselves more now than in the past,” Herring said.

Scammers will sometimes use fake accounts and photos of attractive men and women to trick their victims.

Hailee Miller, sophomore from Cadiz, Kentucky, said she has never heard of the term sextortion before, but she has felt unsafe while using social media platforms.

“There are men that have contacted me before, making me feel uncomfortable and because of it I have made my account private and do not use dating apps or any app that I do not know well,” Miller said.

The department has investigated several incidents related to sextortion. While many of the criminals involved in this activity are overseas, those who commit the crimes locally can be charged with harassing communications, theft by extortion or distribution of sexually explicit images without consent.

According to the Murray State Crime and Fire Log, harassing communications have been reported 10 times and theft by extortion has been reported on campus three times since January 2019.

Herring provided several tips to protect yourself from these types of scams.

“Never send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are or who they say they are,” Herring said. “Do not open attachments from people you do not know. Be suspicious of friend requests from someone with whom you have no mutual friends. If you know how, do a reverse image search on their profile pictures to see if they have been used elsewhere. Never send money, buy a gift card or do anything to comply with the demands. To give you peace of mind, keep webcams covered when you are not using them. If an account starts trying to blackmail you, call the police immediately and don’t send them any money.”

If you do find yourself in a dangerous situation, Herring said to not send any photos or money, keep all of the evidence, including messages, and contact the police immediately.

To reach the Murray State Police Department, call (270) 809-2222.