When internet users think of social media, they’re probably envisioning the major names like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. The reality is there’s a host of connection platforms out there, each with its own target audience of users, and each with its own dangers.

Some platforms actually serve double duty. Pinterest, for example, is a great way for individual users to keep up with interesting images and weblinks that they find on the internet, but it’s also a way to connect with people who share similar interests in specific topics. Skype, which started life as a great VoIP communication tool for messaging, chatting, and video calling, also allows users to connect with old friends or meet new people through friend requests.

It’s this misunderstanding of the functions of platforms like Skype that have led to a host of issues concerning cybercrimes, cyberbullying, extortion, and more. If you’ve ever spent any time on Skype you’ve probably already received connection requests from people you don’t know, maybe even people whose user names might seem a little shady (looking at you, “girl4fun23”).

But a quick search through Skype’s help forum reveals a horrifying world of Skype extortion. Essentially, you receive a friend or connection request from someone you don’t know. His or her profile picture is intriguing, though, so you accept the request. You strike up a chat relationship with this person, and then it quickly moves to video chatting. From there, things get a little “heated,” and you and this other individual are eventually enjoying some video face-to-face time that you might not want others to see.

Too bad. This person has been recording your Skype sessions through the platform’s record function. He or she tells you that unless you pay up, the video will be released on your Facebook account, sent to all your Skype connections, posted to YouTube, even emailed to your co-workers or children.

Throughout the Skype forum on this issue, victims shared the same story: within seconds of complying with the stranger’s request for “sensitive” video play, the chat immediately turned to extortion. Some victims were told to wire money by Western Union, sometimes to the tune of hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

Helpful moderators and veteran Skype users had the same advice for everyone: block the individual on Skype and on any other social media sites where you may have connected with them, and delete your Facebook account to keep the person from posting the video to your wall where others could see it. It was also suggested that the victims run an antivirus check of their computers to seek out harmful software.

Fortunately, there were no posts that indicated any of the scammers had taken the steps any further. No one reported that the incriminating video had actually been shared or that they’d been contacted again. That indicates that these scammers are out for a quick victim; if you don’t do what they want, they apparently go on to the next person.

One of the best courses of action for situations like this is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Be careful about connecting with people on social media whom you don’t have a personal or professional connection with, and remember that it’s all too easy to create a fake profile to dupe you into believing this person is kind and genuine. Also, it should go without saying but obviously the reminder needs to be put out there: don’t do anything on the internet that you wouldn’t do in person, in front of a large crowd of people. Nothing on social media is ever “private,” and nothing is ever truly deleted.

 

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