When Scams Become Deadly

by Paul Myers
©2022 by Paul Myers, excerpted with permission from his Talkbiz News newsletter.

A 17-year old kid was talking online to someone he thought was a girl who was interested in him. The conversation developed and “she” sent him a nude photo, claiming it was of “herself.”

“She” talked him into sending “her” a compromising pic in return.

The scammer then demanded money from him, with the threat that if he didn’t pay the pics would be posted on social media where his family and friends would see them.

He didn’t have the $5000. The scammer went as low as $150, which he was able to pay. Then they just kept asking for more and upping the pressure.

The kid was terrified. He was sure this would be the end of his literal straight-As, Boy Scout reputation. Like so many teenagers faced with problems they don’t know how to deal with, he thought he’d never get beyond it.

NO ONE is going to just pop your way to offer money with no strings attached. Ever. (Photo: Sammy-Sander on Pixabay)

So he killed himself.

It’s called sextortion, and it’s becoming more common.

It’s not new. I was contacted years ago by a woman who had fallen for it. She sent a guy a mildly compromising pic of herself and he demanded more or he’d release the first one.

The situation escalated, and she spent months doing work for the creep online to try to keep the photos private before she approached me about it.

I did what I could to help, but I have no idea how that story ended. I do know she was desperate and genuinely terrified.

It has now become a whole new field of business for the scammers. And it doesn’t just affect teenagers.

If you have teenagers, though, it might be good to share this with them.

Don’t think there’s a private channel where you’re safe with this stuff, either. Anything that can be displayed on a screen can be captured and redistributed.

Yes, even if the program it’s displayed in disables screen captures. All they have to do is take a photo of it. So much for “self-destructing” messages.

This stuff can be life-changing, and not in the good way.

Be careful out there. And remember…

The sexy widowed colonel who just sent you a friend request isn’t sexy, widowed, or a colonel.

The “literal straight-As Boy Scout” bit isn’t Paul being hyperbolic. He’s referring to Ryan Last, who really was a straight-A student and Boy Scout who was planning to attend Washington State University and major in agricultural biotechnology. He was 17 when the scammer popped in out of nowhere, and killed himself hours later. “We thought we did everything correctly protecting our boys from any online threats,” his father said. “But Ryan still became the victim of an online scam that ended with blackmail. In the end he got so embarrassed and scared that he only saw one way out.” (Family photo)

Randy here. The FBI says there were over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints made just in 2021. And those are only the cases people had the courage to report.

If you feel embarrassed talking to your kids or grandchildren about things like this, imagine how they feel. Send them the URL to this page:

Short link: https://go.thisistrue.com/scam
Shorter link: https://owowi.com/scam

This awesome teen didn’t have to die. Yours doesn’t either.

And this is just one of many types of online scams actively running today. Help give them a chance by cluing them in, even if it causes you to blush a little. It’s better than the alternative.

Paul Myers, a real-life old friend of mine, is a brilliant writer with keen perception. He has appeared on these pages before (with his kind permission, charging nothing for it), most notably:

The Return of Paul Myers.

Thanks, Paul.

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18 Comments on “When Scams Become Deadly

  1. Waitaminnit.

    Your sidebar suggests this whole thing that drove him to suicide happened in *hours*? Did I get that right?

    That’s what the linked story says, at least. Could be six hours, dunno, but apparently that night. -rc

    • The impression I got from the articles on that one make me think it was all in one evening.

      As I mentioned in another example, these things can go on for months before the victim finally feels they have to resolve it, one way or another.

      Ryan was, unfortunately, a victim of both the scammer and American Puritanical prudishness. If the response to such things was normally “He has anatomy. So?” they might often end differently.

      But yeah… This stuff can go real bad, real fast.

  2. Had a “Woman” (Not really sure) claim to be from a dating site I tried…. Well she sounded perfect.. A bit TOO perfect if you get my meaning (Guard up mode) Finally “I’ve been robbed and need money”… Yup. Well sorry dear, I’m a bit short just now (no I was not) and POOF “She” was gone.

  3. Sounds like pretty dumb scam no one give a shit about naked pics these days. It’s not the 1950’s.

    You bet. But kids are definitely worried about their bodies, their parents’ reactions, their peers. Panic short-circuits thinking. -rc

    • Or if the scammee is a teacher or coach, they could be vulnerable. Or if their family is part of a very strict religion. I have also heard of cases where the extortionists threatens to send the pictures to their boss so they lose their job.

      Indeed. “What, they post pics of themselves like that …in public?! They obviously have no sense/discretion. Fire him.” -rc

    • It would be nice if things were the way you describe, but for most of the country they are not.

      Especially for an approval-oriented teen who’s just gone from playful sexting to having their whole world turned upside down and feels stupid and embarrassed over it.

      Or how about the realtor with her face on all those bus stops? Can you imagine how she would see this playing out? Memes with her naked body Photoshopped in on signs advertising an open house?

      You might not kill yourself over it, but I’d be very surprised if you were this casual about someone using pics of you that way.

  4. I don’t even remember how long I’ve been on Paul’s list. In fact, that’s how I got here. Well worth reading, whether you’re interested in online business or not for everything else you learn from him.

    I’m honored to have known him since 2000. We were introduced by another legendary online marketer who I had met in the late 90s. -rc

  5. I’ve told many of my friends’ children (and now some grandchildren, sigh) that if something is going on and they’re too embarrassed to tell their parents, another relative, a teacher, a trusted neighbor, or a member of the clergy, I’d much rather be their last resort than their pallbearer.

    “OK, you fell for a scam. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last. The only difference between your generation and mine in foolishness is that we didn’t have the Internet in my teenage years. Humiliation is usually temporary, death is permanent. Let’s talk and figure a way out of this.”

    I like the approach. Thanks for teaching some grand/parents how to start. -rc

  6. I’m so tired of the FB comments about how beautiful I am and how this lonely man wants to be my friend….

    When I see those in comments to my posts, I report and ban every one of them. -rc

    • FB doesn’t seem to care when they are reported. I’ve reported many — all I get back is a note saying they checked, and it doesn’t violate any of their rules, and therefore, they will not be taking the profile/account down. Things like “friend requests” from current friends/relatives, that I know are fake, and the “works at US Army” Colonel (in the wrong uniform) who is also a widowed/divorced doctor and engineer. And who loves puppies. Now I just block and delete.

      Good enough, but shame on FB for allowing scams to continue. And people wonder what I mean by “Facebook is evil.” This is just a minor example! -rc

  7. If you don’t know who they are and you can’t find a credible link to them then block them. If they don’t have friends or a believable timeline block them no matter what. If they put up a comment on your post asking you to message them, visit their profile, or send them a friend request block them. If they are being too “sweet” (sweetheart, love, honey, or complimenting your personality or looks) then they are too creepy to even consider. Block them. I have so many people blocked I have lost track of the number. The thing is, they like to reuse the same photos and names (a Middle-Eastern name for someone who looks like he comes from the heart of Texas and claims to live in Norway? Give me a break!).

    Unfortunately, women — especially if their profiles note “widowed” or “single” — are particular targets, so I know you have a lot more experience with this than I do, even though I’ve had plenty of young (typically) Asian (and always very pretty) women want to friend me. As you say: virtually no friends shown (though sometimes one of my male friends have accepted the connection!!), no posting history, etc. The inescapable and obvious conclusion: scammer (and probably a young man at that). It’s why I stress so often that we all need to think more because really, this doesn’t take very much of it. -rc

  8. There was a recent episode of “The Equalizer” that dealt with this very thing — a teenage woman was “revenge outed” by an ex-boyfriend — he sent nude pictures of her to everyone in their school.

    The episode did a good job showing how terribly this affects teenagers who become victims like this.

    • How stupid can anyone be, sending those kinds of images to begin with?

      More important, why hasn’t anyone taught them Wellington’s parry? “Publish and be d—ed!”* THEN make sure everyone knows the BLACKMAILER’S identity! Bet his next GF won’t be for long.

      [* A famous 18th century London madam wrote an autobiography, then offered to sell each former client “their” chapter in lieu of publishing it. Wellington still became Prime Minister, too.]

  9. The photo exchange happened to one of my grandsons. Luckily, he was so upset and worried that he brought the ransom request to his Dad’s attention. They reported the info to a very understanding distant family member who worked for the police who tried to pursue the scam with no luck. And once our grandson stopped replying, the picture wasn’t posted and the demands stopped.

    Smart boy. Thanks for your real-world example! -rc

  10. There is another one. I keep getting email telling me one of my passwords and then saying they saw me on an adult site. With some other vulgar things thrown in about my taste. They say send them money or they will send it to all my contacts. Here is the problem. I don’t go on adult sites. Yes, the password is correct and that’s not good, but they have nothing on me. I wonder how many people they catch that might not actually go to the sites either but are scared because that IS their password?

    It’s quite common for passwords to “less secure” sites to be compromised (and sometimes “very” secure sites): you hear the situations referred to as “breaches.” So they have your email address, they have your password for some forum, and they send the scam email that you describe. That IS (one of) your passwords, so it’s scary. The lessons are 1) don’t get scared, it’s “just” a scam, and 2) you MUST change your password on any site that you used that password — NEVER use the same password on multiple sites. If you use that forum (or whatever) password on (say) your banking/retirement account, you can BET that whoever has your email/password combo is trying them at many other sites, and if they get into your banking/retirement account, it will be drained immediately. This is serious stuff, and you have to take it seriously. I’ve written about it before: The Biggest Mistake People Make Online is still valid. -rc

    • I have changed it, I just thought it wasn’t a bad idea to have the scam written out for others. I said it wasn’t scary for me because I knew it was a scam and didn’t go to those sites either. But I did not ignore it, sorry for the misunderstanding. The good news is that I don’t use anything but way complicated passwords for financial information. The only sites I have easier passwords on are like forums. And that was an old password. But thanks for the concern. I don’t have a retirement account and I think they would give me back my identity if they tried to steal it.

      I was referring to the generic “you” — those who might be reading the comments, to outline why it’s a problem and how to fix it. I did understand you hadn’t fallen for it yourself. -rc


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