The email terrified the young mother. “What if I told you I had pics of you?” the unknown writer asked. “Like a lot. Would you send me more?”
“They were pretty x-rated,” he added.
To prove he wasn’t bluffing, the mysterious emailer sent four naked or suggestive photographs of the woman, which had been stored in a laptop computer stolen in a recent burglary of her New Hampshire apartment. He threatened to publish them if she didn’t send him more explicit ones.
And if she had any doubt that he was a cruel, “sick” person, “then im going to act like one,” he wrote.
The harassing emails were emblematic of what U.S. law enforcement officials say is a growing and particularly invasive form of cyberstalking that’s getting their increasing attention. It has been given a chilling moniker: “sextortion.”
“This is a growing problem,” said Wesley Hsu, the chief of the cyber and intellectual property crimes unit at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, which has handled several such prosecutions. The victims “suffer understandable emotional distress at the moment it happens, and the Internet is unfortunately quite permanent and it can have an effect on these mostly young women for a long time.”
“They can perceive it as their life being over,” he said.