Mumbai: Kaspersky researchers have uncovered a sextortion scheme where scammers pretend to be a corrupt Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, demanding $10,000 in bitcoin from victims whose name they claim to have found in an investigation into online pedophiles.
The spoof employee alleges the CIA also holds contact details for the victim’s relatives, as well as their work address, and offers to delete all traces of the victim from the investigation in return for the payment. It is unknown how many people have been affected by this scam.
Extortion schemes that threaten to expose the recipient’s interest in online porn unless a ransom is paid are nothing new. In most cases, the messages draw on information gathered from earlier data breaches. The emails are often easy to identify by their poorly crafted nature and misspelled language.
The ‘CIA sextortion’ email uncovered by Kaspersky experts differs in that it is carefully worded and laid out and carries a copied CIA logo. The email appears to come from a corrupt CIA agent involved in ‘Case #45361978’, “a large international operation set to arrest over 2,000 people suspected of pedophilia, in over 27 countries”.
The writer alleges that the victim’s contact details, and those of their relatives, are included in a list held by the operation, and offers to delete all files relating to the victim in return for a $10,000 payment in cryptocurrency.
“Messages like this can be terrifying for recipients. The fraudsters exploit the fact that mistakes happen in the digital world, and people’s names can and do end up in the wrong place. Innocent people might be prepared to pay up or to contact the attacker to avoid any potential damage to their reputation and relationships,” said Tatyana Shcherbakova, Security researcher – Kaspersky.
“Most such emails are fake, and the attackers are unlikely to hold the information or evidence they claim to have. The recipient is probably one of many thousands receiving such an email. Fortunately, there are signs you can look out for to spot a scam, and action you can take to protect yourself. Most of all, don’t panic, don’t respond and don’t pay up,” added Shcherbakova.
Kaspersky researchers recommend that if you receive a threatening email message demanding money, the best thing to do is the following:
- Mark the message as ‘spam’ so the spam filter catches it next time, and then delete it immediately.
- Do not click on links in emails if they come from people or organizations you don’t know, or have suspicious or unusual addresses.
- Don’t contact and don’t pay the attackers. Responding will reveal that the email account is a live one so you are likely to start receiving even more spam, and paying will mark you out as someone worth.