With online security breaches becoming the new norm, the Better Business Bureau advises consumers to be on the lookout for threatening emails. BBB is warning the public about "sextortion" emails from scammers trying to blackmail recipients into giving them money.

Sextortion emails typically include threats to reveal images and videos of the victim watching or using pornography, copies of their browser history or evidence that they downloaded videos from pornographic sites. The increase in this type of scam is believed to be due to scammers getting access to legitimate usernames and passwords that were exposed during major security breaches.

How the scam works: The scammer will contact people whether or not they visited pornographic sites and claim that they have hacked their computer and activated their webcam. They will share that they have been able to access all the porn sites the victim has visited. The scammer then threatens to send embarrassing images, videos and screenshots to stolen contacts, family, friends and co-workers if payment is not made.

Recent submissions to BBB Scam Tracker show that the criminals want to be paid in bitcoin, a virtual currency that is difficult to trace. Hackers are getting bolder and smarter, and because of this, everyone is at risk of getting a sextortion email. Scammers will happily play on people’s emotions to trick them out of their money.

Here are some red flags to help you identify and protect yourself from sextortion emails:

• The scammer does not provide any details about what site you supposedly visited.

• The scammer cannot support the threat with any evidence.

• The scammer requests an urgent ransom to be paid in bitcoin, gift cards or wire transfer.

Protect yourself:

• Never send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are.

• No matter what the email threatens, do not respond. Also, delete the email.

• Do not open attachments or click links in emails from people you do not know. Doing so could lead you to a fake website designed to trick you into giving up personal information or you may unknowingly download malware to your device.

• Never send money, buy a gift card or do anything to comply with the demands in the email.

• To give yourself peace of mind, keep webcams covered when you are not using them.

• Check to see if your email was compromised in a security breach.

• Go to bbb.org for more information or call 888-996-3887.

Stephanie Garland is the regional director for the Better Business Bureau office in Springfield, 2754 S. Campbell Ave. Among those counties served by BBB Springfield are Jasper, Newton, McDonald, Lawrence and Barton counties. Emails may be sent to sgarland@springfieldbbb.org. You can find a retailer’s BBB rating or read a BBB Business Profile by going online to www.bbb.org or by calling 888-996-3887.

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