Local agencies issue warning about extortion scam circulating in Northeast Ohio

Updated: May. 15, 2020 at 6:42 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - As people are quarantined, local agencies are reporting an uptick in extortion scams.

Carol Wasp keeps getting the somewhat alarming emails, as she works from home in Rocky River.

She said they contain a password of hers.

“I do use that password for a couple of things,” Wasp said.

The sender claims to have video of her visiting explicit websites.

“I knew that wasn’t true,” Wasp said, “But, I was angry, because they threaten you.”

The person threatens to release embarrassing video if she doesn’t send them money, saying “you will live out of guilt for the rest of your lifetime.”

Our partners at the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad are warning people that this is a scam circulating in Northeast Ohio and across the country right now.

Larissa Bungo works in the Federal Trade Commission’s Cleveland office. She told 19 News what people should do if they get a suspicious email.

“Stop, don’t pay anything, delete the message and know that it’s a scam,” Bungo said.

Bungo said the FTC is working with the FBI on several cases people have reported in Northeast Ohio.

“We have received more complaints about this recently enough to consider it a spike,” Bungo said.

We learned that there are three things you can do right now to avoid becoming a victim of a scam like this.

  1. Update your passwords-- especially if you received an email from a potential scammer.
  2. Make sure your passwords are strong and don’t use the same one for different sites.
  3. Update your virus software.

Also, regardless of the sites you are visiting, experts say it is always a good idea to cover the camera on your computer screen. You can easily do so with a band-aid.

“We really encourage people to file reports, even if you don’t fall victim to the scam, just to get the word out that something is going on that looks suspicious,” Bungo said.

That’s exactly what Wasp did. She recently filed a report with the Better Business Bureau.

Bungo said the scam is likely correlated to the pandemic conditions we’re living under.

“It could be in that people are home. More people are at home and are on the internet,” Bungo said.

While many people receiving the scam emails are completely innocent, Bungo said it’s not far fetched that some actually are visiting adult sites in their down time.

Scammers know they are especially vulnerable.

“People are taking advantage of the situation and we don’t want to reward them,” Bungo said.

“I think everyone should be protected,” Wasp said.

Again, even if you didn’t fall victim to this scam but received a suspicious email, the FTC and FBI want to know about it.

You can file reports on the FTC and FBI websites.

If you live in the Cleveland area, you can also call the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad at 216-443-SCAM (7226). People can also report a scam on their website.

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