Most of these scams or sextortions take place on media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and email. Photo: Chris Ratcliffe

CAPE TOWN - Sextortion via social media is in the headlines again after reports over the weekend of a Gauteng businessman admitted to paying more than R170 000 to prevent explicit pictures from being released. 

The Johannesburg-based businessman - who remains anonymous for ethical reasons - contacted security specialist Mike Bolhuis to help him and it was with Bolhuis's help that the extortion stopped. 

Bolhuis, a Pretoria-based specialist investigator into serious violent and economic crime, told Business Report on Monday that the businessman had been blackmailed for 11 months, which stopped as soon as he got involved. 

He said, however, that he was unable to recover the R170 000 that the businessman had already paid.

Bolhuis has his own cybercrime unit and tracks as much information on the perpetrator, he then leverages this information in order to stop the blackmail. 

Asked if he contacts the police, Bolhuis said no. "In most cases, my client wants to remain private." If the police become involved then the victim's information becomes public knowledge. 

So how does the scam work? 

Most of these scams or extortions take place on media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and email. 

In most cases, an attractive woman will contact the victim on social media and will send erotic pictures of "herself". She will then ask the victim to "reciprocate" and will use those pictures as blackmail or extortion. 

In almost all cases the perpetrator is suspected to be a male.

Bolhuis said these "sextortion" cases had grown exponentially. He estimated as many as 1 000 cases were reported a day. 

The investigator said he had looked into at least 150 cases over the last month. 

“We suspect that these sextortion rings are operating in the big cities like Durban, Cape Town, and Johannesburg,” he said.

“They scour the market and see what is the latest trend that would work.”

Bolhuis also said the initial blackmail amounts start at between R500 and R1 500 and some of his clients had paid more than R50 000 to avoid humiliation and shaming. 

Bolhuis said he was not aware of a case where a woman had fallen for this scam.

Privacy as a commodity 

Bolhuis said privacy would soon become an expensive commodity. 

“The public is sometimes under the impression that your information is private on WhatsApp. Let me warn the public today, there is no such thing as privacy.”

“The most expensive thing in the future will be your privacy and not water, you can hack everything,” Bolhuis said.

Business Report conducted a poll in July, where we asked our readers if they had fallen victim to a scam on WhatsApp. 

Of the 114 votes, 3 percent said yes and 97 percent had said that they had not. 

- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE