The risky business of making money from nudes and other intimate content

Here at eSafety we have pretty much seen it all when it comes to online behaviours like image-based abuse – when a person shares, or threatens to share, an intimate image or video of someone without their consent.

We have seen cases of image-based abuse by the vengeful ex, the abusive partner, sexual predators and blackmailers. We also commonly see people on-sharing intimate images and videos sent to one person privately, for ‘fun’ or to be cruel, without caring about the consequences for the person shown.

However, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic an increasing number of people have come to us needing help with another type of image-based abuse. In these cases, it happens because their attempt at making money from their intimate content has not gone to plan.

Subscription sites with adult content

With COVID-19 conditions isolating people and disrupting their usual income streams, it’s not surprising some have turned to online options to earn money. Paid subscription sites, which allow ‘content creators’ to offer adult content like nudes for a fee, are booming at the moment.

But if you are considering becoming an intimate content creator you need to be aware there are downstream risks, particularly for your longer-term privacy and mental wellbeing. It’s also important to know that it’s actually illegal to share sexual content of yourself if you are under 18.

If you do share your intimate content, whether for a fee or free, it’s very difficult to keep control of its distribution. It may end up being posted far more widely than you agreed. This can happen on a small scale with subscribers sharing photos, videos or screenshots with friends who have not paid the creator for them. Or it can happen on a larger scale, like the OnlyFans leak earlier this year when thousands of videos (and the names of their creators) ended up on free pornography sites.

This wider distribution undermines the creator’s business model – who is going to pay for something they can get for free? But it can be difficult to identify the person responsible or enforce any restrictions in the subscription site’s terms of service.

It can also have an emotional impact on the creator, leaving them feeling cheated, angry and scared about where the intimate content will end up. Just because they accepted money for sharing it with a limited audience does not mean they are comfortable with it being seen by others, especially their friends, family or professional colleagues. This can also make them vulnerable to sextortion, a type of blackmail where a scammer threatens to distribute the victim’s intimate content unless they pay up.

eSafety is here to help when things go wrong, but intimate content creators may go through a lot of pain first – and suffer long term impacts.

Falling victim to sextortion

At eSafety we are seeing an increasing number of reports, often from young women, about sextortion scams – and it’s not just creators on subscription sites who can be victims.

People are also commonly tricked into sharing intimate content by someone promising money, a modelling contract, or a ‘sugar daddy’ relationship with ongoing financial benefits.

The requests for images or videos may seem harmless at the start – for example, the scammer may only ask for headshots. But before long they want intimate content like nudes. Once they get it, they refuse to pay, and they use the intimate content to blackmail the person who sent it. Usually the scammer threatens to share it with the victim’s family and friends unless they meet certain demands. The demand can be for money, or to send further images or content that’s more explicit, such as sexual videos.

Remember, scammers will rarely actually pay for intimate images and there is no real modelling contract on offer. These are simply tactics they use to ‘socially engineer’ their targets. Their aim is to cheat hopeful people out of money or to get intimate content they can use for their own sexual gratification or sell to others.

How to help protect yourself

Follow these tips to minimise the risks of sharing intimate content:

  • Be wary of offers of ‘easy money’ or other promises that sound too good to be true.
  • Be suspicious if someone you don’t know randomly contacts you online, for example by direct message, offering you money or modelling work.
  • If you are thinking of becoming an intimate content creator on a paid subscription site, consider the risk of wider distribution of this content.
  • If you do become an intimate content creator, take steps to protect your personal information and identity so scammers can’t threaten to expose you:
    • avoid using your real or full name (remember to check if your payment details reveal this)
    • don’t give away clues about your location or occupation
    • don’t show your face.

What to do when things go wrong

There are several steps you should take if someone shares or threatens to share your intimate content:

  • Don’t give in to any demands. Our experience shows that this only causes the demands to escalate.
  • Cut off contact. People who threaten to share content are generally less likely to go ahead if the person targeted refuses to engage with them.
  • Take screenshots of the threats. If you are worried about screenshot notifications being sent to the person threatening you, take a photo of the threats with another device.
  • Report the user to the platform and then block them. Continue to do this for any new accounts the scammer creates to contact you. Our eSafety Guide has step-by-step instructions on how to report to a wide range of platforms.
  • Report the sharing or threat to eSafety. We have a team dedicated to helping Australian victims of image-based abuse and we always do our best to support you. This can include helping to remove intimate content that’s been shared online and alerting social media services to accounts that have been misused to threaten you.

Our website has more information about image-based abuse and how to report it to eSafety.