British Columbia

Better Business Bureau warns of email 'sextortion' scam

The Better Business Bureau is warning people about an email scam, in which the scammer claims to have embarrassing material that will be released if the victim doesn't send money.

The scam includes claims that embarrassing material will be released if the victim doesn't pay

Karla Davis, manager for community and public relations with the Better Business Bureau, says people have been receiving emails threatening to release images, videos, or screenshots related to pornography if money isn't sent via bitcoin transfer. (Jacy Schindel/CBC)

The Better Business Bureau is warning people about an email scam, in which the scammer claims to have embarrassing material that will be released if the victim doesn't send money.

It's a blackmail attempt based on pornographic material that doesn't exist, according to Karla Davis, manager for community and public relations with the Better Business Bureau.

"This is basically an email that includes threats that's talking about videos, images, or [computer] screenshots suggesting that the recipient has been using or indulging in pornography," said Davis.

Burnaby resident Merv Magus, 78, received two separate copies of the email scam. The first demanded $1,698, the second demanded $1,179.

"It got to the point where if I didn't give them, basically, some bitcoin, then they would send pornographic material with me in it to my friends," said Magus. "I thought, geez, at my age, if I've had that luxury, it would be funny."

Magus said he wasn't very familiar with bitcoin, but believed it was pretty suspicious,

"I'm not on that technology," he said. "As soon as you hear bitcoin, you don't touch it."

Davis said most people reporting the scam to the Better Business Bureau aren't falling victim, and it appears to be based on passwords and information from data breaches that may go back years.

"Part of the reason why they're convincing is because some of the recipients were somehow caught up in a data breach," she said.

For Magus, the idea that he was pictured in pornography was a bit of a joke — but the fact that his password was known is what made the emailed threats alarming.

"I was troubled by it right away, because how did they get the password?" he said

About the Author

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver, filing stories for cbc.ca, CBC Radio, and television.

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