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Increase in cyber sextortion largely being driven by one African cybercriminal group

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A single cybercrime group is largely behind the drastic increase in financial sextortion, according to a new study by the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI). A loosely knit West African group called the Yahoo Boys has been publishing manuals online for other criminals, leading to an increase in financial sextortion crimes.

According to the report, Yahoo Boys have been publishing material such as instructional videos and scripts on TikTok, YouTube, and Scribd for other criminals to use. The targets of these materials are English-speaking children and young adults on Instagram, Snapchat, and Wizz.

Over the last 18 months, these instructional materials have led to a massive tenfold increase in this type of crime. Consumers of these materials apparently go on to target high schools, youth sports teams, and universities using fake accounts before using social engineering to coerce their victims.

In some of the attacks, NCRI also noted that generative artificial intelligence like ChatGPT is being used to target children in “sextortion-at-scale operations” potentially allowing the criminals to target more children and young adults than they were previously able to.

With AI, it’s important to recognize that an attacker only needs a fully-clothed picture of a victim to generate fake nude photos which could be enough to pressure a young person into paying the attacker.

Over the last 18 months, the FBI has seen a 1,000% increase in financial sextortion incidents and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) has observed a 7,200% increase in cases targeting children from 2021 to 2022. The FBI has called it a global crisis that needs everyone’s attention.

If you’ve been targeted by this type of attack, NCRI says that you should:

  • Block the criminal
  • Report the account
  • Do not pay
  • Do not continue contact
  • Save any evidence for law enforcement
  • Deactivate accounts where criminals contact you

It also recommends that young people speak to their parents, friends, or a trusted adult to get support through the process of stopping contact and reporting the incident to law enforcement.

For parents, the NCRI recommends having open discussions about online activity and learning more about the risks of Instagram, Snapchat, and Wizz. In the case of Wizz, NCRI actually recommends deleting accounts and just steering clear altogether because its focus is communicating with strangers.

It also suggests that parents should raise awareness of the issue in the local community, schools, sports teams, and youth groups to help prevent sextortion. It also highlights that the NCMEC and FBI or equivalent organizations in your country will have publications about further guidance on the issue.

Source: NCRI

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