eWhoring involves fraudulent behaviour. It is not only criminal, but also exploitative, through the deceitful use of images of (usually) young women. eWhoring involves selling photos and videos with sexual content of another person to third parties. This is done by impersonating that person, real or not, in chat encounters to a third party, who pays for what they believe is an online sexual encounter.
Hutchings and Pastrana analysed 6,519 posts, written by 2,401 members, in 297 threads on a hacker forum to be able to understand the process by which this crime is generally committed.
Script analysis breaks a crime into a series of 9 steps from the preparation for the act to the after the act; namely preparation, entry , pre-condition, instrumentation pre-condition, instrumentation initiation, instrumentation actualization, doing, post-condition and exit.
Those becoming involved in eWhoring start by learning from tutorials available online on hacking forum websites. They then build a set of images both implicit to sell the veracity of their character and explicit to sell to a consumer. Next they create a character, complete with a backstory, alias and the accounts needed to engage with potential victims. They then create profiles in order to engage with consumers that make contact. A negotiation takes place to secure a price (for the transfer of images). After the payment is received the product is provided to the consumer. After the transaction the consumer is either discarded or maintained as a “good customer’ and targeted with other ficticious personas or potentially with other scams.
Sources of difficulty for offenders in the commisssion of this crime can be in the acquisition of images or video files, a demand which is met (and potentially fueled) by vendors on online forums. Further issues are in the maintenance of accounts for characters, as platforms can ban characters involved in fraudulent activities. Proving that a fictitious character is real also presents problems, however this is often achieved by digitally faking ‘proof of life’ by superimposing text on images to show a requested date or name on an object within an image. Providing live ‘cam shows’ by dynamically stitching together prerecorded video can also be difficult to achieve realistically. Perhaps the greatest difficulty is in the processing and cashing out of payments to the character as payment platforms generally provide identity verification, which can be difficult for a person that does not exist.
Analyzing the crime in stages provides insights into potential disruptions that could be introduced. These could include the promotion of distrust of tutorials, increasing the likelihood of image saturation, the verification of accounts their use, reducing the demand for images, and shutting down payment accounts, among others.
The actors in this industry develop by mimicking and misappropriating the images of models for the purposes of commercial exchange with consumers. Besides the obvious defrauding of consumers this crime affects those models operating legitimate online sex businesses. Further, the criminals may misappropriate the images of those affected by personal account breaches. Innovation and evolution in this market such as the use of photorealistic simulations, chatbots and factual advertisement could convert this to a legitimate business. However, this alternative doesn’t resolve issues relating to the objectification of women as portrayed by the virtual chatbots. eWhoring presents as an illegal industry built on cooperation between criminals and this may be in order to increase the market size and revenue of those selling image packs and crime tutorials. There are a number of potential reductive interventions each implementable at a different stage of the crime process.
eWhoring is a fraudulent practice that sells fictitious sexual encounters and can harm the customer, legitimate businesses, and creates a market for stolen intimate images.