NASHVILLE, Tenn. — By now you've been warned about so many online scams you probably figure you're ready for anything, but this latest "sextortion" ploy is enough to give almost anyone pause.
You get one of the disturbing emails on you computer and it gets your attention. It's a threat to expose your most intimate moments. Common sense may tell you it's bogus, but then you can't help but wonder "what if?"
What if somehow a hacker activated your computer camera? What if that person somehow managed to record you looking at porn or an activity in your bedroom or bathroom?
"I have represented people in federal court who do amazing things with computers," said legal expert and attorney Jim Todd.
He thinks it's a long shot that a hacker could actually take control of your computer camera and record you. Such real cases are exceedingly rare. Still, the very idea is what drives this lucrative "sextortion" scam.
The unsuspecting victim gets a message claiming malware was activated when someone visited a porn site: "I recorded your cam showing your immoral sexual doings."
It goes on to say the malware downloaded all your contacts and the threat usually reads, "I'll email your recording to your contacts unless you pay me."
It appears such emails are sent out en masse to thousands at a time and those responsible are hard to catch.
"A lot of these people are not in the country when doing this and it's difficult for law enforcement to get them," Todd said.
The mere threat of such intimate details going public — no matter how outlandish the threat — is enough to scare many victims. They're embarrassed to tell loved ones of the threat and they are hesitant to report it to police, so often times they just end up paying.
But don't fall for it.
Experts say the odds are you were never hacked. Think about it. If you were hacked, they'd include proof, like a screenshot from the embarrassing video. Scammers bank on this scaring you so much that you'll pay up hoping it will all go away.
The simple rule of thumb if you get one of these emails is to immediately delete it.