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Sextortion - 7 things you should know

5 minutes read

- Written by Yubo Team

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The digital world moves fast. For all of its benefits, there are also risks, so we want to keep you informed about an online safety issue that is on the rise.

Sexual extortion – commonly known as 'sextortion' – is a serious offense, but you can avoid being a target and understand what to do if you encounter it.

If you can spare a few minutes to read this blog, you’ll know:

  • What to look out for
  • How to take control
  • Where to get support 

If you’re already in a situation you want to get out of, it’s important to stay calm, because it’s not too late – and help is available. 

Please share this blog with your friends and let them know that you’ve got their back if it happens to them.

In this blog, we provide guidance on the following:

  1. What is ‘sextortion’?
  2. Who is this happening to?
  3. What actually happens?
  4. How can I protect myself?
  5. What should I do if this happens to me?
  6. What is Yubo doing to help protect young people?
  7. Where can I go for more support?

1. What is ‘sextortion’?

Anyone can become victims of this crime – adults, kids, or teens. Among minors, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) describes it as: “a form of child sexual exploitation where children are threatened or blackmailed, most often with the possibility of sharing with the public nude or sexual images of them, by a person who demands additional sexual content, sexual activity or money.”

Oftentimes, this crime plays out with perpetrators working to persuade someone, including young people, to send them sexually suggestive or explicit photos. Upon receipt, perpetrators threaten to publicize the content unless the user sends them money. In some cases, they continue to extort victims for money even once an initial sum has been paid. 

Being scammed and exploited in this way can be really stressful and traumatic. You might feel:

  • shocked
  • helpless
  • isolated
  • ashamed 

Perpetrators of this kind of offense are often extremely aggressive, so you might be scared about what will happen if you don’t agree to their demands and pay the money they’re asking for. 

You might also worry that you’ll get into trouble if you tell anyone what’s happening. 

Try to remember that this isn’t your fault and that you’re not alone. It’s important to report scenarios you encounter online that make you uncomfortable, especially those involving extortion.

2. Who is this happening to?

There has been a dramatic increase in reports of sextortion in recent years. 

In 2023, 186,819 reports received by NCMEC’s CyberTipline were about online enticement (the category that includes sextortion), up from 80,524 reports in 2022. 

Recent research has revealed that cybercriminal groups are behind many cases of sextortion. And while criminals target people of any gender or age, teenage boys are increasingly becoming the most commonly targeted victims of financial sextortion. 

In an interview with CBS News, John Shehan, NCMEC Vice President and Yubo Safety Advisory Board member, said, “Boys are typically targeted because they are more willing to engage in riskier behavior. … They are enticed very quickly [as] they believe they are talking to an attractive female online.” 

John encourages victims to speak up and ask for help – for example, by reporting incidents to the social media provider or through NCMEC’s CyberTipline at https://report.cybertip.org/reporting.

3. What actually happens?

A stranger (often pretending to be a teenager) or someone you know contacts you on social media, a gaming platform, or a dating app and asks you to share an intimate photo or video, send a sexual message, or do something sexual in a live chat. 

Once you have shared this with them, they might threaten to hurt you, pass it on to your family, friends, and followers, or make it go viral unless you do something for them, such as send money, cryptocurrency, or gift cards, or share more images.

It’s important to understand that sextortion can begin in many different ways, including:

  • Catfishing/Scamming: Someone sends you a message from a fake social media account. They share an intimate image of themselves (that might be stolen from someone else or created using AI) and ask you to share one back
  • Grooming: Someone spends time building a friendship or relationship with you online so that you start to trust them and feel OK about sharing intimate messages and images
  • Hacking: Someone claims to have hacked your device or account and found intimate images of you (they might have hacked it or they might just be saying they have hacked it)
  • Revenge: A former partner who wants to reconcile or humiliate you gets in touch to say they are going to publish intimate images that you had previously sent to them or allowed them to take.
  • Editing: Someone contacts you and threatens to create inappropriate images of you using digital editing tools or AI

To make the Yubo community as safe and respectful as possible, everyone has to agree to our Community Guidelines when signing up. We do not allow sexual content or sexually explicit comments and discussions in Lives, and we do not tolerate sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances towards other Yubo users. (You can find out more about what we’re doing to help protect young people in point #6 below).

4. How can I protect myself?

The LSE’s ySKILLS project has found that young people feel proud of what they can cope with online but may also feel alone when dealing with difficult situations, especially if they are the target of attention aimed at harming them. 

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Richard Graham, a member of the Yubo Safety Advisory Board, notes that, “There are many positives to being free to navigate the digital world on your own but what young people also seem to want is that one person – perhaps a parent or teacher – who can help them make sense of what’s going on.” 

To help protect yourself from sextortion, we recommend that you look out for the following red flags:

  • Follows, friend requests, and messages from people you don’t really know (even if they seem to know people in your friends’ social networks)
  • A new online contact becoming overly friendly and quickly pressuring you for personal information or images
  • Someone contacting you on one platform and asking you to move to a private video chat or a messaging app
  • Things that don’t add up (e.g. their online profile doesn’t match them or they’re friendly one minute and making you feel bad the next)
  • Claims that seem too good to be true (e.g. when someone says they work for a modeling agency)
  • Promises of reciprocation (e.g. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”)

It’s also a good idea to:

  • Read the online safety advice on your social media provider’s website (you can find lots of advice about Yubo in our Safety Hub)
  • Trust your instincts – if something feels weird or wrong, it probably is
  • Use reverse image search to check if someone online is who they say they are (you can find instructions on how to do a reverse image search here)
  • Avoid sharing intimate photos online
  • Say ‘no’ if you ever feel uncomfortable sharing a photo or video with someone
  • Talk to a friend or an adult you trust if you’re worried about anything that’s going on online
  • Block anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable online 

5. What should I do if this happens to me?

Even if you made a choice that you now regret, remember that it’s the person extorting you who is committing the crime – you’ve done nothing wrong. The good news is that, if you don’t pay up, the perpetrator is likely to lose interest and stop contacting you.

Here are some practical steps you can take:


  • Stop all contact with the person who is threatening you
  • Don’t share any more images with them or give them any more money 
  • If you’ve already sent money to them, try to cancel the payment transfer
  • If you can, gather evidence of your interactions with the person (take screenshots, for example) – don’t block them until you have this evidence as they might delete their profile or messages


  • Tell someone you trust, like a friend, family member, or teacher – you don’t have to deal with this on your own and they’ll want to help you 
  • Don’t delete any messages from the person who is threatening you – instead, collect evidence, such as:
  • - Screenshots of the messages they sent to you (including date and time stamps)
  • - The name of the platform(s) they contacted you on and/or the website URL where they shared the images 
  • - Their social media username(s) and/or email address(es)
  • - Their payment details (e.g. bank, Bitcoin, PayPal, Cash App) 
  • Report what has happened to the social media provider as they should be able to remove the content and take action against the person who is threatening you (e.g. warn, suspend, or ban them) but don’t forward any of the perpetrator’s images or your own photos or videos, as you might be breaking the law by doing this
  • If you’re under 18, report what has happened to Take It Down, a free online tool that prevents inappropriate photos or videos of under-18s being shared on certain platforms (you can find a full list of participating platforms available here) – you can do this anonymously. (If you report sextortion to Yubo, we’ll create a digital fingerprint or ‘hash’ of your photo or video and use the Take It Down hash list to scan for it.) 
  • If you’re over 18, report it to Stop NCII, a free tool designed to support victims of non-consensual intimate image abuse 
  • Contact the police if you want to take legal action


  • Once you’ve passed the evidence on to your social media provider, Take It Down and/or the police, block the perpetrator and advise your friends to do the same

We also recommend that you:

  • Review your in-app privacy and safety settings 
  • Change your profile name(s) and password(s), and 
  • Set up Google Alerts for your name so you’ll be alerted if anything about you is posted online. 

Please reach out for support to help you cope with what has happened, as we know it can be a frightening and overwhelming experience. We’ve included some links to support organizations at the end of this blog.

6. What is Yubo doing to help protect young people?

As a leading platform for young people to socialize online, we take a proactive approach to protecting, supporting, and educating our users. 

We have a team of safety specialists around the world and we’re guided by a board of safety experts, which includes a NCMEC expert. 

As part of our commitment to taking action against child sexual exploitation online, we also partner with INHOPE, and Yubo is an active member of the Tech Coalition and the WeProtect Global Alliance.

The safety features in the Yubo app are upgraded regularly to reduce the risk of online harms in the ever-changing digital world. Innovative tools to help stop criminals creating fake profiles and exploiting young people on Yubo include:

  • Sign-up: To reinforce our age gates, Yubo requires all users to verify their age using age-estimation technology (powered by Yoti) and asks all users to select a profile photo of their face. We can detect suspicious and fraudulent profiles during sign-up and take relevant actions when applicable
  • Settings: Once a user has set up their Yubo account, they can select their profile preferences, safety and privacy features – for example, they can disable their profile  discovery feature (“swipe”), hide their exact location, block other users, decide to mute specific words they don’t want to be exposed to,  and turn their camera off
  • Community Guidelines: Every new Yubo user must accept our Community Guidelines, which have clear rules against nudity and sexual content, as well as sexual harassment and related behaviors.
  • Content monitoring and moderation: We’ve developed innovative tools that use a combination of AI algorithms and human moderation to reduce inappropriate/harmful content and behavior on Yubo. In addition, we monitor livestreams and intervene in real time following a user report, or if we have reasons to believe that our Community Guidelines have been broken. In instances where harmful, sexual, or graphic content is detected, the livestream is closed

Depending on the severity of the policy breach identified by our team, our actions can vary from educative/preventive alerts, to stricter measures, such as account suspensions

  • Reporting concerns: We’ve made it easy for our users to report any inappropriate content or behavior on Yubo so that we can investigate and take relevant action. To help us understand the context, we ask our users to provide as much detail as possible in their report and also allow them to attach screenshots and proof of the incident. Our team prioritizes reviews of user-generated reports based on the severity of the reported incident. To further expand our efforts to combat all forms of online abuse, we continuously update and develop user reporting capabilities, with the most recent addition being a new category that allows users to report instances of someone “sharing or threatening to share private images”. This report category is specifically designed to facilitate user reporting of sextortion and improve our oversight of potential instances of this issue.

  • Prevention: We collaborate with organizations such as NCMEC and StopNCII to reinforce our proactive approach around sextortion and child abuse, and use tools like NCMEC’s Take It Down hash list to scan for images and videos on their public or unencrypted platforms. In addition, our team proactively collaborates with law enforcement authorities to report sexual and child abuse worldwide. We also send pop-up warnings to users who may be using our messaging function to communicate inappropriate or private information to other users. 
  • Preventive pop ups: We also send warnings to users that may be using our message functionality to communicate inappropriate or private information to other users. 

  • In-app campaigns: We work with NGOs, charities, and other partners to educate our users about key issues. Users on Yubo also will commonly see in-app campaigns on online safety, which provide information and resources to help our community stay informed about potential risks, where to learn more, and how to report/seek help, if relevant.

7. Where can I go for more support?

Please don’t suffer in silence. There are lots of organizations that offer advice and support on this issue, including:


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