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FBI reports recent surge in sextortion cases in Utah

The FBI has reported a significant rise in sextortion cases across the Mountain West region, while the Utah Department of Public Safety noted a record number of extortion and blackmail incidents in the past year.

In 2022, QSaltLake reported on a scam involving Scruff and Grindr users being told that an exchange they had the night before was with an underage child who, the scammer said, claimed had committed suicide after. The scammer demanded money to keep quiet.

According to state data, Utah has seen a steady increase in extortion and blackmail cases over the past five years. By October 31, 2023, 622 incidents had been recorded that calendar year, surpassing the total for all of 2022 and nearly equaling the combined totals of 2021 and 2020.

The FBI Salt Lake City field office, which covers Utah, Montana, and Idaho, receives dozens of sextortion reports monthly. With the advent of technology and online dating, anonymous extortion scams have become easier to execute. Scammers often threaten to expose private photos unless the victim pays them.

A recent media spotlight on sextortion cases involving the website Ashley Madison prompted Jacob G. (name withheld upon request) to share his experience of being extorted on the LGBTQ+ app Grindr. In April, Jacob exchanged explicit photos with someone on the app, only for the situation to quickly escalate into extortion.

“He was demanding that I drive to a gas station and buy gift cards in the amount of $1k,” Jacob recounted. The extortionist threatened to post Jacob’s photos on a website with child sexual abuse material, warning that Jacob would face jail time if the photos were found there. “It honestly was one of the most terrifying moments in my life,” Jacob said.

After researching extortion scams and finding similar stories on Reddit, Jacob blocked the extortionist, hoping nothing further would happen. “I’ve had a bunch of friends say the same thing has happened to them recently as well,” he said, hoping his story would raise awareness about these scams.

Grindr acknowledged that bad actors sometimes exploit features on the platform, a challenge faced by all social networking and dating apps. A Grindr spokesperson stated, “Grindr has always taken its role as a connector for the queer community very seriously and is committed to creating a safe and authentic environment free of scammers, fake and harmful accounts, and spam.” The company employs a dedicated moderation team and machine learning tools to detect and remove violating accounts.

Grindr also provides resources to protect users against scams, including Holistic Security and Scam Awareness Guides and safety tips available within the app. “We encourage users to report any suspicious behavior and use our video calling feature to connect with other users before meeting them in person,” the spokesperson added. Grindr is committed to supporting law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting bad actors.

Immediate Actions to Take:

  1. Do NOT Pay or Engage Further: Resist the urge to pay the blackmailer or continue communication. Paying or engaging further only signals that you are a profitable target.
  2. Screenshot EVERYTHING: Preserve all communications with the perpetrator. Capture their Grindr profile details, chat messages, extortion threats, personal photos/videos they have, and any money transfer receipts.
  3. Lock Down Your Social Media: Protect your online presence to prevent sextortionists from contacting your friends, family, or employer. Adjust privacy settings on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to maximize your privacy.
  4. Report the User to Grindr: Use the platform’s reporting tools to document the sextortion attempt. Include all relevant details and screenshot evidence to help Grindr’s security team take action.
  5. Contact Law Enforcement: Sextortion is a serious crime. Report it to your local FBI field office or file a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Provide all documentation and details about the scammer’s contact information and any money transferred.

Legal Rights and Support:

Victims of Grindr sextortion have strong legal protections. Under federal law, it is illegal to distribute private sexual content without consent. States also penalize sexual coercion and revenge porn. If the scammer obtained money from you, they could be charged with theft and wire fraud. Legal options include:

  • Restraining Orders: Petition for a restraining order against the scammer.
  • Criminal Complaints: Press charges against the perpetrator.
  • Civil Suits: Recover damages through a civil suit.

Attorneys who work with the LGBTQ community can be found at qpages.com/cat/attorneys/.

FAQs for Victims:

  • Can I Stay Anonymous? Yes, your name and identifying details can remain private in public court records. Attorneys will work to seal sensitive documents and evidence.
  • What If the Perpetrator Is Abroad? U.S. authorities can prosecute these crimes with the cooperation of foreign law enforcement. Scammers from various countries have been brought to justice through a global network of investigators.
  • What If My Photos/Videos Are Shared? Act quickly to file DMCA takedown notices with any platforms hosting your content without consent. Obtain court orders to remove the material from search results.
  • How Long Will Resolution Take? While criminal investigations may take time, most sextortion cases can be contained within days to weeks with proper intervention.
  • Do I Have to Reveal My Name or Sexual Orientation? No, all consultations are confidential, and extensive measures are taken to protect your privacy.

Emotional Support and Recovery:

Remember, you are not to blame for the scammer’s actions. Reach out to trusted friends, family, or an LGBTQ-affirming therapist. Join support groups for sextortion survivors and engage in self-care activities. Your sexual orientation and practices are your own, and sharing intimate content consensually is your right.

Resources:

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