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“By then, our conversations had gone from friendly chats to sexting.”At first she hesitated.She had never sent anyone a nude photo, but Dan was different.Heather knew there were adults on the Internet who preyed on kids, and she regularly warned her own four children about the dangers of talking to strangers online.Yet the 37-year-old married mom from Phoenix never thought she would ever fall victim to a growing Internet crime known as sextortion.He describes the techniques used to gain Heather’s trust as “grooming.”“Perpetrators like Dan often research their victims in advance so they can quickly engage them by sharing similar interests and viewpoints,” says Evans, who has a background in both law enforcement and cybersecurity.“They gain their victim’s trust by providing a sympathetic ear and by using overt attention, flattery, and charm.”Many victims blame themselves.
“Again, it was done by someone I thought I could trust, but the difference is this time, the exploitation was made public.”In 2013, Cassidy Wolf of Temecula, California, received an email demanding that she either email nude photos of herself to an anonymous account, or agree to do whatever the email sender asked via Skype for five minutes.
He was charged with hacking into the computers of multiple women and obtaining webcam footage of them in various states of undress, without their consent or knowledge. Wolf didn’t know her perpetrator, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but she feels lucky she had her family’s support and didn’t give in to his demands.“I know one of the victims didn’t have anyone to talk with and tried to handle it on her own,” Wolf says.
“She felt she had no choice but to give in to his demands or have her photos spread across the Internet.”Carrie Goldberg, a Brooklyn, New York-based attorney who is considered a pioneer in the field of sexual privacy, sees many cases like Wolf’s.
Soon, she started connecting with other users, including Dan*, a 28-year-old entrepreneur who shared Heather’s love of music.“We were both big fans of The Who and our conversations started with banter about the band and evolved from there,” Heather says.
“I was upfront about being married, but Dan was smart and funny, and talking with him filled a void in my life.”It didn’t take long for Dan to move the conversation from the public Twitter timeline to communicating discreetly with Heather through private direct messages.
The perpetrator said that if she declined, he would release photos of Wolf undressing that he had obtained by hacking her webcam.