HomeSecurity ArchitectureTraining materials for sextortion discovered on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube

Training materials for sextortion discovered on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube

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A new study from the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) has revealed that a form of cybercrime called “financial sextortion” is on the rise in North America and Australia. The main culprits behind this alarming trend are identified as a non-organized cybercriminal group in West Africa known as the “Yahoo Boys.”

According to the FBI, sextortion is defined as “a crime that involves adults coercing kids and teens into sending explicit images online. In this case, the criminals threaten their victims with widespread distribution of the explicit images, including to the victims’ friends and family, unless they make repeated payments through a variety of peer-to-peer payment apps, cryptocurrency transfers, and gift cards.

It has been discovered that the Yahoo Boys use social apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Wizz to find and connect with their victims. In West Africa, these tactics have been employed as a way of getting rich quickly, as there are few other means of earning income.

Despite a reported increase in sextortion cases over the past few years, platforms utilized by Yahoo Boys and other threat actors have been slow to moderate their materials or make changes that could help curb the spread of sextortion.

According to Paul Raffile, a senior intelligence analyst with the NCRI, sextortion is a “transnational crime threat that is actually causing a significant number of American deaths.” It is also noted that this form of crime has mostly impacted boys and young men and has even driven some victims to suicide.

In August 2023, NBC News reported that two Nigerian men were extradited to the U.S. to face charges in a sextortion scheme that is said to have prompted the suicide of a 17-year-old Michigan high school student. The men pleaded not guilty and were denied bail in September.

In November, a grand jury indicted a Nigerian man in response to allegations from the U.S. Secret Service that he engaged in Yahoo Boys tactics, including sextortion and wire fraud amounting to $2.5 million. This individual and unidentified co-conspirators used fake accounts on Facebook and Snapchat to pose as attractive young women, connect to young male users, and gain access to their friends and follower lists. They then enticed the victims into sending them explicit photos.

The accused party allegedly promised victims that they would delete or refrain from distributing the photos if they sent money through apps like Venmo, CashApp, Zelle, cryptocurrency transfers through Bitcoin, or gift cards. However, after the victims paid, they were faced with new threats and pressure to keep making payments.

The NCRI’s study found that the Yahoo Boys promoted their tactics through training videos and guides for running a financial sextortion scam on platforms such as TikTok, Scribd, and YouTube. Unfortunately, many of these harmful materials were still readily available on these platforms, reaching over half a million views.

As concerns grew, NBC News and CNBC contacted TikTok, YouTube, Scribd, and Meta about these materials. TikTok removed the violative videos, but Scribd did not give a statement, and YouTube did not remove the video and did not provide a statement either.

Meta’s spokesperson has reinforced that the company has strict rules against sharing intimate images and has implemented many of the recommendations provided by NCRI. Snapchat also mentioned that they have been ramping up tools to combat sextortion and protect users from unwanted contact.

The NCRI’s director of intelligence has emphasized the need for stronger action from these platforms. Suggestions include a distinct category to report sextortion, stricter access to personal network information, and more vigilance in taking down explicit or instructive materials.

The former employee of Snapchat claims the company has taken little action to protect young users and acknowledges that financial sextortion has been a matter of concern since 2021. A call to the companies to do more has been echoed by child safety groups, highlighting the danger of financial sextortion particularly prevalent on the app Wizz.

As financial sextortion becomes increasingly prevalent, there is a growing urgency for social media companies to take decisive measures to protect their users. The constant innovation in cybercrime tactics and incentives for cybercriminals on platforms has enormous implications for this generation of internet users.

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