Deepfake sextortion

The FBI wants citizens to know that sextortion schemes featuring deepfaked explicit content are on the rise.

“Based on recent victim reporting, the malicious actors typically demanded: 1. Payment (e.g., money, gift cards) with threats to share the images or videos with family members or social media friends if funds were not received; or 2. The victim sends real sexually-themed images or videos,” the FBI said.

What is a deepfake?

Deepfake refers to AI technology used to create visual content created by superimposing the likeness of someone onto the body of another or vice versa. While this is often used for comedic purposes, an increasingly common application is pornography that falsely portrays celebrities and well-known public figures in sex acts. 

The increases in available computer processing power, video sharing platforms, artificial intelligence and deepfake apps are behind the proliferation of often difficult to detect doctored content online.

What is sextortion?

Sextortion is portmanteau that combines “sex” and “extortion.” It is a coercion scam. A blackmailer targets an individual, hacking into a social media or dating apps, SMS messages or the target’s cloud storage to find this content. Sometimes the victim believes that they’re in an online relationship with the scammer and transmit this sexual content. When the content is acquired, the scammer threatens to release it to the public or to the target’s friends and family unless a ransom payment is made. 

Sextortion scammers often return to a target to extort more money. Targeted minors and adults alike have committed suicide rather than face the humiliation and repeated demands for money. 

Deepfake sextortion would allow scammers to choose targets and generate sexually explicit content, skipping the hacking part.

The creation of deepfake content isn’t illegal, nor is sharing sexually explicit content of non-minors online. As deepfakes become harder to detect and easier to create, the onus of reporting these crimes to law enforcement falls increasingly to the victim.

What can be done?

  • Monitor your children’s internet activity: Minors are a frequent target of sextortion scammers.
  • Be careful on social media: Sharing images and videos online ultimately provides ammunition for scammers. Set your privacy settings to only give access to friends and family members to limit exposure. Don’t accept invitations or DMs from unknown accounts.
  • Google yourself (and your children): Researching your information and performing reverse image searches can identify information shared online without your knowledge or consent.
  • Practice good cyber hygiene: Protect your accounts from being compromised by using strong, unique passwords and two-factor authentication.
  • Report sextortion scams to the FBI: Sextortion scams involving deepfakes are Federal crimes; reporting them provides law enforcement with information about where they originate and who is conducting them.