Binghamton University has experienced a rise in “sextortion” crimes over the 2021-22 academic year.
During a BU Council meeting on April 21, the Annual Campus Safety report revealed an increase in fraud and grand larceny cases from the 2021-22 academic year. This change has been attributed to a rise in sextortion scams — a generally recognized form of fraud that focuses on the exploitation of sexually explicit material obtained from a victim, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Sextortion schemes usually start on an app or social media platform where people can meet. After the suspect starts a relationship with the victim, they collect explicit videos or pictures of the victim and begin extorting money out from the victim by threatening to send the content to the target’s family and friends.
Christopher Meyn, a lieutenant at the University Police Department (UPD), explained why sextortion is classified as both fraud and grand larceny in crime statistics.
“The more potential victims the suspect has contacted over social media, the more likely the suspect is to hook a victim and maliciously obtain explicit material,” Meyn wrote in an email. “Because of this, the scam meets the Penal Law crime of Scheme to Defraud 2nd. (Pl 190.60(1)). The second element of the crime is grand larceny, which specifically addresses the suspect extorting the victim for money or other property. Anytime property, regardless of the value or nature, is obtained through extortion it is classified as a grand larceny (PL155.30(6)).”
Meyn further described the link between fraud and grand larceny in the crime statistics. According to Meyn, BU had 17 fraud cases that were classified as sextortion in 2022, accounting for 41 percent of on-campus frauds that year. These cases also are classified under the grand larceny category of the Safety Report.
In a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data spotlight, the agency stated that 41 percent of sextortion reports named Instagram as the initial mode of contact and 31 percent named Snapchat. The FTC also stated that reports have increased more than eight times those recorded in 2019, and people aged 18-29 were more than six times as likely to report sextortion than people over the age of 29.
Joe Gallagher, a UPD investigator, described the process that a victim of sextortion would go through if they choose to pursue a criminal investigation.
“In cases of ‘sextortion,’ we start by collecting the usernames and handles for the associated accounts and submit subpoena requests through the District Attorney’s office,” Gallagher wrote in an email. “The subpoenas request subscriber information for the various accounts for the purposes of identifying the perpetrator. The problem we encounter is that the perpetrator often uses burner emails and phone numbers, which cannot be traced back to the actual suspect. It can be very challenging to close a sextortion case with the arrest of a perpetrator.”
Anna Jantz, the assistant director and advocate of the Consultation, Advocacy, Referral and Education (CARE) Team, explained the impact of these crimes and on-campus resources available to victims of sextortion.
“These experiences can be deeply violating and isolating for those impacted, and it is important that students know they are not alone,” Jantz wrote in an email. “University offices such as UPD, the CARE Team, [University Counseling Center (UCC)] and [Violence, Abuse and Rape Crisis Center (VARCC)] are just some of the many resources students can explore. Knowledge is a powerful tool in addressing these incidents.”
Strategies recommended by the FBI to protect people from these scams include being selective about what you post online and being wary of people you meet through social media.
Brianna Torres, a sophomore majoring in psychology, expressed her thoughts on the nature of sextortion crimes.
“No one should ever have to go through something like this,” Torres said. “It is straight manipulation.”
Isabella Fredericksen, the vice president of Domestic and Oppressive Violence Education (DOVE) and a junior majoring in biomedical engineering, described the effort her organization is making to aid victims of interpersonal violence and sextortion.
“DOVE wants anybody experiencing sextortion to know that it is not their fault, and they are not alone,” Frederickson wrote in an email. “Our club focuses on educating students about the different types of interpersonal violence, resources on campus, how to help a friend experiencing this [and] coping mechanisms. We hope that as a club, we can work with other resources both on and off campus to stop the rise in the number of sextortion claims and make resources more available to students, if they do find themselves experiencing this.”