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France warned to watch out for ‘sextortion’ email scam

People in France have been warned to watch out for an email scam asking victims to send money, in order to stop compromising photos and videos of them from being “released” to all of their contacts.

This kind of scam - dubbed “sextortion” - is not new, but it has been seen more frequently in recent weeks, according to government surveillance site, Cybermalveillance.gouv.fr.

The scam starts with an email from a scammer, who claims to have explicit photos and videos of the recipient, which they say were “secretly recorded via your webcam” by the hacker, using remote software that was secretly installed earlier.

The email may even make reference to the victim’s specific name, “browsing tastes”, or password details, and say that the videos were captured while the victim was “visiting pornographic websites”.

It may say that your own anti-virus software is “useless” as the data is “already on a remote server”, and also use manipulative language such as “our little secret”, usually as a further threat.

The email then demands a large ransom, usually in US dollars or crypto-currency Bitcoin, which “must be paid” before a certain deadline to avoid this explicit footage being sent to all of the victim’s contacts.

The emails are sent en masse, with hackers hoping that some people will be scared enough to pay up. But they are uniformly scams, experts have said.

Cybermalveillance.gouv.fr has now issued guidelines of what to do should you receive such an email.

 

The guidelines are:

1. Never reply. This shows the hackers that your address is valid, and that you are engaging with their message. You can simply delete the email and move on. If in any doubt, change all passwords and cover your webcam when you are not using it. Avoid using illegal streaming websites, and ensure any passwords you use are varied and robust.

2. Do not pay. No matter the threats or the amount demanded, never pay scammers. According to the website, “none of these threats have ever yet come to pass, so you will simply be uselessly funding this criminal system”. This is extortion, a crime punishable by seven years in prison and a fine of up to €100,000. If you have paid, contact your bank to ask them to cancel the transaction.

3. Keep proof, especially if you have paid any money or replied to the email. Take and save as many screenshots of the email and/or payment as you can, and report the scam to the authorities - either the online government platform, or directly to the police if necessary.

4. Ask for help. The threats contained in these emails can be termed “traumatising” for some, and anyone affected is advised to talk to someone they trust. Minors especially can call counselling phone lines anonymously (in French) on 0800 200 000, from 9h to 19h, on weekdays.

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