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What is ‘sextortion’ and how to prevent it

March 16, 2022

sextortion graphic

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University Police and Public Safety is working to raise awareness about an issue impacting our campus community: sextortion.

Sextortion is defined as an interaction on social media or dating app (Snapchat, TikTok, Tinder, etc.) where intimate photos are shared, at which time one person of the interaction threatens to release the images unless they are paid money.

Detective Sergeant Aaron Schroeder of the Community Support Bureau says this is becoming an increasing problem, which is why he wants to raise awareness.

“Sextortion can be a traumatic experience for someone who has been targeted by this type of behavior,” said Schroeder. “It may lead to fear, frustration, shame, and other negative emotions that could adversely impact a person’s educational environment. MSU Police and Public Safety wants to provide awareness and education so that individuals may protect themselves during their online interactions.”

Here is a list of red flags to identify possible sextortion:

  • Person does not have a working camera: The person you are talking to does not have a working camera, but they still want you to share yours.
  • Fast-paced contact: The person contacts you immediately after they follow you and quickly tries to get you to send images or join a video call.
  • Use of fear: The person you are talking to uses fear tactics to attempt to get you to pay them money.
  • Low number of pictures: The person’s profile has only a few photos available.
  • Numerous misspellings: The profile has common words misspelled.
  • New profile: The profile is new and does not have a lot of followers/friends.

“The offender thrives on the idea that with one click, post, or send, they can cause irreparable harm to the victim,” said Dr. Karen Holt, an assistant professor for the MSU School of Criminal Justice. “We have to remove the shame and stigma around sexual behavior both on and offline so that if a victim is targeted, they either know how to prevent it or can seek resources to help them deal with what has happened.”

If you do find yourself speaking with a possible sextortionist, Dr. Roberta Liggett O’Malley, an assistant professor with the University of South Florida Department of Criminology, says to follow the following strategies:

  • Cease contact: Every situation is different. Sextortionists who are motivated by financial gain usually do not distribute images. The best first line of defense is to end all contact.
  • Block: Immediately block the person on your social media pages, email, and phone.
  • Do not pay: If the person requests money, do not pay them. This will likely increase the threats and extortion efforts of the person attempting to receive money.
  • Report to law enforcement: You can contact your local law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children if you are a minor.
  • Collect evidence and document communications: This will help in your effort to file a police report.
  • Beware of expensive cyber-recovery scams: These scams claim to be able to access the images and destroy them. Often, this is another layer to the overall sextortion scam.
  • Consider deactivating your social media accounts: If you are being contacted across multiple profiles, it may be beneficial to temporarily deactivate your accounts.

If you experience concerning behavior such as sextortion, sexual assault, or violence while dating or at any other time, the MSU Police and Public Safety Special Victims Unit has resources to help. You are not alone. A list of resources can be found here.

In addition, MSU Police and Public Safety can be contacted anytime by calling 517-355-2221 or 9-1-1 for emergencies.

More information about sextortion and helpful resources to combat it can be found on the FBI’s website.



Dana Whyte, Communications Manager, MSU Police and Public Safety


Inspector Chris Rozman, Public Information Officer, MSU Police and Public Safety