Experts have warned that “sextortion” cases have increased substantially throughout 2023 across the world, including South Africa, with criminals specifically targeting naive teenagers and young adults.
Sextortion is a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material – commonly explicit personal images – for a ransom amount.
The Internet Watch Foundation highlighted that there were more reported sextortion incidences in the first half of this year than the whole of 2022, with South Africa’s CyberSecurity Advisor Andy Mashaile noting similar states in South Africa.
Most of these scams in South Africa are social engineering scams, which can be difficult for users to detect as they often rely on exploiting human vulnerabilities rather than technical ones.
Criminals use scamming tactics such as pretexting or romance to manipulate the victim into giving them what they want.
Pretexting scams spin a false narrative or use a pretext to gain the victim’s trust, such as pretending to be a classmate or a friendly and distant acquaintance. Romance scams are where these criminals create fake profiles on WhatsApp and other social platforms – including dating apps – to establish relationships with the victim, taking advantage of their trust.
Speaking to eNCA, Mashaile said these criminals are starting to target high school teenagers as young as 15 years old as technology and smartphones have become an intricate part of everyday life. This tactic also takes advantage of the naivety of young people.
He added that inquisitive teenagers are also clicking on unsafe advertisements and links on various porn sites that lead them to these scammers.
Mashaile wanted parents to educate their children about these types of risks and to monitor their smartphone use, especially over the fast-approaching festive season, which will give them more time to be online.
Kidnapping warning for students
Kidnapping is also on the rise in South Africa, Police Minister Bheki Cele warns, and criminal syndicates are not only targeting wealthy business people and their families but also university students.
Cele noted that these kidnapping syndicates target selected individuals for means of ransom.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) recently flagged a surge in these syndicates targetting university students by setting up fake dates via various dating apps, such as Grindr.
Kidnapping is on the rise in South Africa, Police Minister Bheki Cele warns, and criminal syndicates are not only targeting wealthy business people and their families but also university students.
“A multidisciplinary team led by the Anti-Kidnapping Task Team rescued an 18-year-old Wits University student from a kidnapping syndicate last Wednesday (20 September 2023),” the note said.
Cele noted that the suspects who were arrested have been linked to 56 other kidnappings across South Africa.
Also speaking to eNCA, Crime Watch’s Yusuf Abramjee shared his concerns about these incidents, which he said are continuing at an alarming rate.
He noted that while big organised crime syndicates are responsible for the big ransom cases, he added that smaller criminal gangs in and around suburbs are joining the trend to make a quick buck.