Study: 'Yahoo Boys' Cybercriminal Network Posted Sextortion Training Materials

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Study Uncovers Sextortion Training Materials on TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube

Study Uncovers Sextortion Training Materials on TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube

Jan 29, 2024

Financial sextortion is a dangerous type of cybercrime which has generated worldwide headlines in recent years. The FBI defines sextortion as:

“A crime that involves adults coercing kids and teens into sending explicit images online.”

According to a recent NBC News report, common sextortion scenarios can involve:

  • Criminals threatening their victims with wide distribution of a shared explicit image or video (including to the victims’ friends and family).
  • Victims are then told to repeatedly pay cybercriminals through a variety of peer-to-peer payment apps, cryptocurrency transfers, and gift cards.

Law enforcement authorities estimate that 80% of sextortion victims never come forward or ask a parent/guardian for help due to shame. Sadly, sextortion has resulted in a number of recent tragic teen suicides, sometimes within hours of the predators soliciting money.

NBC reports that sextortion is “rapidly rising,” particularly in North America and Australia. Moreover, a new study from Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) confirms that a substantial percentage of financial sextortion scams are driven by a “non-organized cybercriminal group in West Africa” who call themselves “Yahoo Boys.”

NCRI’s study concluded that the Yahoo Boys cybercriminals used the following social apps to conduct sextortion schemes:

  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • Wizz

The Yahoo Boys network reportedly uses these platforms to “find and connect with their marks.”

“Yahoo Boys’ tactics gained popularity among some as a way to get rich quickly in West Africa, where there are scant other means of earning income, according to a 2023 Atavist investigation. Popular songs referencing Yahoo Boys have lent the cybercriminal gangs cultural clout,” NBC News said.

However, as sextortion crimes have increased, platforms utilized by criminal networks such as the Yahoo Boys have remained “slow to moderate their materials or make changes that could help curb the spread of sextortion,” NBC added.

Paul Raffile, a senior intelligence analyst with the NCRI who co-led the study, told NBC that sextortion is not only a “transnational crime threat,” but also an immediate danger to American teenagers. Raffile noted that sextortion “is actually causing a significant number of American deaths,” the majority of which are boys and young men.

Sextortion Training Videos Found Online Believed to be Work of Yahoo Boys

“NCRI’s study found that the Yahoo Boys promote their tactics and recruit new gang members, in part, by publishing training videos and guides for running a financial sextortion scam on platforms including TikTok, Scribd and YouTube,” NBC reported.

According to NCRI researchers, dozens of videos describing sextortion training tactics were discovered on TikTok and YouTube. The videos reportedly showed “self-described Yahoo Boys engaging in sextortion by using easily searchable phrases like ‘blackmail format’ or hashtags like #YahooBoys,” NBC said.

“They also found scripts on Scribd teaching others how to extort their victims using similar search terms. The materials on the various sites had been viewed over half a million times, according to the NCRI analysis.”

NBC News and CNBC reviewed some of the sextortion training materials which currently remain live and available on all three platforms.

One video posted to YouTube instructed viewers on how to ‘catch a client,’ keep them engaged by acting ‘like a real girl,’ and how to convince them to send increasingly explicit photos. The video contained a walk-through on how to threaten a victim and coerce them into sending payments, at which point the narrator admitted this activity would be ‘high risk.’” NBC reported.

Sextortion Scams Lead to Tragic Teen Suicides in California and Michigan

Sextortion Scams Lead to Tragic Teen Suicides in California and Michigan
In August 2023, two Nigerian men alleged to have engaged in cybercrimes including sextortion and wire fraud of $2.5 million were extradited to the U.S. to face charges. Authorities said the sextortion scheme prompted the suicide of a 17-year-old Michigan high school student. The men pleaded not guilty and were denied bail in September, NBC News reported.

In February 2022, a California teenager died by suicide after a sextortion scam. 17-year-old San Jose resident Ryan Last had sent a compromising photograph to alleged cybercriminal Jonathan Kassi of Reseda. Kassi and a co-conspirator reportedly threatened to distribute the compromising image to his friends and family, demanding that he pay them $5,000.

What to Do if You Receive an Email Sextortion Scam

Experts including the FBI urge anyone targeted by a sextortion scam to not panic and “don’t fall for it.”

Priya Sopori, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted cybercrimes, including sextortion, told NBC that cybercriminals will use psychological tactics such as shaming in an effort to get victims to comply with turning over what are often large sums of money.

But Sopori stressed that it’s all fake. The only reason these sextortion tactics works so well is because:

“People, especially young people, have come to believe there’s no such thing as privacy anymore,” she told NBC.

“This belief leads people to assume that anyone can spy on them at any time, or can even misuse their information to create the appearance of impropriety where it doesn’t exist.”

The FBI also offers the following tips for parents and caregivers to protect children from online sextortion schemes:

  • Be selective about what you share online, especially your personal information and passwords. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator may be able to figure out a lot of information about you or your children.
  • Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
  • Be aware that people can pretend to be anything or anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be.
  • Be suspicious if you meet someone on a game or app and they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.

Children may feel a sense of embarrassment from such a traumatic experience. However, sextortion offenders may have hundreds of victims worldwide, so coming forward to help law enforcement identify, and ultimately apprehend suspects, may prevent additional incidents of sexual exploitation from occurring,” the FBI said.

Speak With a Sextortion Attorney by Scheduling a Free Consultation Today

Dordulian Law Group (DLG) is a leading California-based child sexual abuse firm with experience handling all types of cases involving online predators – including sextortion, image-based sexual abuse (IBSA), revenge porn, deepfakes, etc. At DLG, we represent survivors of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) throughout California and across the United States.

Founded by Sam Dordulian, a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, DLG offers sextortion survivors a unique type of legal representation which includes a four-tiered team of professionals known as the SAJE Team (Sexual Abuse Justice Experts).

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

Contact DLG’s proven and trusted sexual abuse lawyers today at 866-GO-SEE-SAM to learn more about getting the justice you deserve for a sextortion crime. DLG’s team of dedicated sextortion and image-based sex abuse (IBSA) attorneys is standing by 24/7 to answer any questions you have. We’re here to help you take the first step towards obtaining justice against an online predator.

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