What you need to know about Financial Sextortion

At Snap, the safety and well-being of our community is our top priority. Over the past two years, to better understand how teens and young adults are faring online, we’ve conducted research into Generation Z’s digital well-being. Our findings show that one growing threat teens face online today is financial sextortion. 

In 2023, 65% of Gen Z teens and young adults, on all platforms and devices – not just Snapchat — said they or their friends were targeted in online “catfishing” scams, or were hacked by criminals who stole explicit personal imagery or other private information. In both scenarios, the resulting photos and videos were then used to threaten or blackmail the young people, with abusers demanding money, gift cards, more sexual imagery, or other personal information in supposed exchange for not releasing the material to the young person’s family and friends.

To fight back, and to help safeguard our community, against financial sextortion, we’ve adopted and implemented a range of both pro active and responsive approaches. For example, we use signal-based detection, a newer and developing tactic, to identify and remove bad actors prior to them having the opportunity to target and victimize others, to reduce the number of victims, and to serve as a deterrent, demonstrating to bad actors that Snapchat is a hostile environment for such activity.  

Additionally, we leverage the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Take It Down database, which allows for people to generate a digital fingerprint–called a “hash”–of selected image(s)/video(s) directly on their devices (cell, computer, tablet). Participating companies, including Snapchat, can then use those hashes to look for and remove duplicate imagery violating our Community Guidelines.

We encourage users to report bad actors to us and we’ve expanded our in-app reporting tools to include a tailored reporting reason for financial sextortion; specifically, under the “Nudity and Sexual Content” reporting category, we recently added, “They leaked / are threatening to leak my nudes.” This reporting refinement is intended to help inform and educate users that what’s happened to them violates our company policies and is reportable conduct.

Once we’ve identified this type activity on our platform, we take action at the content-, account- and/or device-level per Snapchat policies.  We report identified sextortion bad actors to NCMEC, and also make proactive referrals to law enforcement when a prolific bad actor or abusive network is identified along with actionable evidence

Our research showed nearly six in 10 (56%) of respondents said either they or their friends sought help after being threatened by reaching out to a friend, parent, or another trusted adult and that half (51%) said they reported the incident to the platform, a hotline/helpline, or law enforcement. These trends are encouraging and Snapchat will continue to invest in providing education, tools, and resources to teens and parents on this issue. For example, we added four new episodes to our in-app Safety Snapshot series focusing on sexual risks and harms like financial sextortion; sexting and the consequences of creating and sharing nudes; child online grooming for sexual purposes; and child sex trafficking. By making these types of resources available in-app to our users, and through our parental supervision feature-set, Family Center, we hope to spark conversations between teens, parents, caregivers, and other trusted adults about staying safe online. 

Tips for Parents, Carers, Trusted Adults
  • Have regular, open and honest conversations with teens
  • Ensure teens are not sharing their devices or passwords with anyone - even casual sharing with “best friends” could risk exposure to sextotion by hacking 
  • Encourage teens to exercise good judgment and think critically
  • Get help from technology, like Snapchat’s Family Center
  • If issues arise …
    • Report the incident to the platform and a hotline or helpline  
    • Block the offender; do not respond to or meet any demands
    • If appropriate, report to local law enforcement