Don’t press send: Cyber ‘sextortion’ of students becoming more common at TCU

In+this+Dec.+12%2C+2016+photo+illustration%2C+a+person+types+on+a+laptop+in+Florida.+Riviera+Beach%2C+Fla.%2C+agreed+to+pay+%24600%2C000+in+ransom+to+hackers+who+took+over+its+computer+system%2C+the+latest+in+thousands+of+attacks+worldwide+aimed+at+extorting+money+from+governments+and+businesses.+Spokeswoman+Rose+Anne+Brown+said+Wednesday%2C+June+19%2C+2019%2C+that+the+city+of+35%2C000+residents+has+been+working+with+outside+security+consultants%2C+who+recommended+the+ransom+be+paid.+%28AP+Photo%2FWilfredo+Lee%29

AP

In this Dec. 12, 2016 photo illustration, a person types on a laptop in Florida. Riviera Beach, Fla., agreed to pay $600,000 in ransom to hackers who took over its computer system, the latest in thousands of attacks worldwide aimed at extorting money from governments and businesses. Spokeswoman Rose Anne Brown said Wednesday, June 19, 2019, that the city of 35,000 residents has been working with outside security consultants, who recommended the ransom be paid. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

By JD Pells

A growing number of TCU students have reported being preyed on in cyber blackmail schemes this year after being sexually coerced by people online, according to the TCU Police Department.

“A problem we’re having here is with students sending intimate pictures and then being blackmailed to send money to not release those pictures,” said Detective Mike McCormack with TCU Police. 

The crimes mirror a trend of cyber exploitation that has been seen nationwide. In February, 17-year-old Ryan Last from Los Angeles died by suicide following a cyber blackmail experience. 

According to police, Last had received a message on social media from someone who appeared to be female. After striking up a long conversation, the scammer sent Last a nude picture, and he was asked to send one in return. As soon as he did, the scammer demanded $5,000 while threatening to share the photo. Last sent some money from his college fund but killed himself after she demanded even more, police said.

In a recent case on campus, police said the male student “felt comfortable” accepting a friend request because the scammer had multiple mutual friends with him.

However, the spam account, or ‘finsta’, exploited the student for money. McCormack suspects that these predators send out thousands of requests to their network of contact lists.

TCU police have sent legal letters to the social media platform used in this incident but added that even with a court order, it’s improbable that the location of the culprit can be found due to false information.

According to TCU Police, Instagram and Snapchat are the most common platforms used to sexually coerce students online, and male students are the most common victim of this type of coercion.

“We’ve had several [reports] and there’s been an uptick,” said McCormack. “It’s our concern that this is becoming common.”

McCormack, who worked 16 years as a detective for the Fort Worth Police Department and focused on physical and sexual assaults of children, said the stress of being a victim of sexual coercion is often exacerbated by self blame.

“One of the biggest things that’ll come after [these incidents] is self blame,” he said. “That’s common in these cases here.”

Prevention and support

The TCU Police and Counseling & Mental Health Center said they want to address the stigma that causes males not to report issues of sexual harassment.

“It could happen to anybody at a vulnerable point,” said Chief of Police Robert Rangel. “It doesn’t make the victim any less of a person because they fell for that scam. We’re all the same. Everybody wants to be loved.”

TCU Police and the counseling center are urging students not to send pictures that could be used against them by known and unknown sources.

“Once it’s out there you have no control over it,” said Leah Carnahan, the assistant director of Campus Advocacy, Resources and Education.

Students should also stay vigilant of who they choose to follow on social media, they said.

TCU offers confidential support to help students who have become victims of cyber extortion.

The CARE office is a resource for current students to use and is located in the Counseling Center in Jarvis Hall.

Carnahan said she wants students to know they have support, both in filing reports and in emotional support.

To prevent the situation from escalating, the TCU Police Department recommends, in the case of being extorted, not to wire money to the blackmailer.

“Whoever you’re talking to on the internet, they don’t care about the damage they’ve done or what they’re going to do so they may or may not send the pictures out. Whether you sent the money doesn’t really matter,” said McCormack.

Scammers are not known to stop at the first request, McCormack said.

Students are encouraged to file a police report regarding these types of offenses but the chances of tracking down the suspect or retrieving the money or pictures are a needle in a haystack at best.

That’s why the best thing to do to ensure safety is: DON’T PRESS SEND.