On Grand Valley State University’s campus, there have been a number of reports filed involving sextortion, said Assistant Director of Public Safety and Captain Jeff Stoll. Students have unfortunately had their photos shared, because the person they were messaging took advantage of them.
Sextortion is the practice of extorting money or sexual favors from someone by threatening to reveal evidence of their sexual activity.
These perpetrators are usually found on social media, where they start a conversation with the victim. As the conversation progresses, the perpetrator convinces the victim to send photos of themselves, which is then followed by extortion.
“It is generally a scam to acquire money,” Stoll said. “It always comes back to sending explicit photos online, and the dangers and risks associated with that.”
One scam, which has raised concern on Tik Tok, begins when a potential victim receives a message saying they want to meet up, although they had never met. GVSU senior Anna Mellett said she received one such message, but immediately got a bad feeling and blocked the number.
“They said that something about us going on a date getting bagels and coffee, and I was very confused,” Mellett said. “I didn’t answer it because I kind of suspected it was a scam, so I just deleted it and I blocked the number just in case.”
Scams like these often end with the person who initiated the conversation asking for money or photos of the victim. Stoll said GVPD advises that people don’t send money. Stoll said he understand that being asked for money in a blackmail situation.
Still said the perpetrators themselves can be very difficult to apprehend, as these extortion attempts usually come from random people on the internet that can be located outside the city, outside the state and even outside the country.
In addition, with the ability to do all of this from behind a screen, the perpetrators don’t have to use their real name or face, they can create hundreds of fake accounts, making it very difficult to identify suspects and hold them accountable.
“When the circumstances arise that there is a male suspect and a female victim, they typically lure them in by offering to pay for a nude photo, ” Stoll said. “On the other side of that scenario, what is presented as a female suspect and a male victim, but could easily be a male suspect posing as female on social media, has the suspect flirt with the victim and try to get them to interact and eventually send photos.”
When messaging and interacting with people online, Stoll urges students to be mindful, even with those people that they trust.
One photo that was intended for someone you were flirting with over social media, can be seen by thousands of people within the hour.
Stoll said that victims should not feel embarrassed to report incidents of sextortion and get the help they need.
“For all the times it’s reported we know that it is happening way more than that,” Stoll said.
For more information about sextortion and how to avoid it, please visit the FBI’s pages about sextortion.