There’s perhaps nothing scarier than someone threatening to expose sensitive information about you online unless you comply with their demands. This is known as online blackmail, and it can cause an incredible amount of hurt, embarrassment, and stress.
In this guide, we’ll discuss what online blackmail is, how to deal with it, what to do if someone is blackmailing you online, and how to defend yourself against online blackmail. We’ll also provide the ways DeleteMe can help protect you against online extortion in the future.
What is online blackmail?
Online blackmail (often referred to as online extortion) is threatening to reveal damaging private information about a person online in exchange for payment or some other benefit.
It’s important to note that blackmail is always a crime, and is considered theft in almost every state. Common forms of online blackmail include “sextortion,” or threatening individuals with public exposure of damaging information in exchange for photos or favors sexual in nature.
What to do if someone is blackmailing you online
Being a target of online extortion can be a terrifying experience, but luckily there are actions you can take immediately if you find yourself a victim.
1. Do not engage the blackmailer
First and foremost, cease communication with the blackmailer immediately. Responding might invoke more aggressive threats because you might appear an easy target.
The best thing to do is not engage at all. Avoid negotiation and never give into demands.
2. Save all communications as evidence
If you’re being blackmailed online, you need to collect as much evidence as possible regarding that blackmail.
Capture screenshots of every correspondence, and record any potential personal information about the blackmailer, like usernames, emails, or phone numbers.
3. Report online blackmail to the FBI
Once you have gathered as much evidence as you can, you should report it to the authorities. You can file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Complaints filed with IC3 are processed and then possibly referred to local, state, federal, or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies for further investigation.
In order to file the complaint, simply fill out the IC3 online form. Agree to the terms and conditions, fill out your personal information, describe the incident, provide the evidence you gathered, and, finally, sign and submit the complaint.
4. Report online blackmail to the local police
After filing an IC3 report with the FBI, you should also report the crime to the local police.
Unlike filling the IC3, it’s more appropriate to appear in person at a headquarters near you when dealing with local authorities. However, still provide all necessary information and evidence.
After filing with the local police, you’ll likely receive information about your rights, as well as recommendations on how to proceed.
How to protect yourself against online blackmail
The reality is, if a lot of your personal information is online, it’s more likely you could end up a target of online blackmail. The more information of yours available for potential blackmailers to get their hands on, the more vulnerable you are.
Below you’ll find best practices for Internet privacy. Ultimately, the only way to protect yourself is to remove the information about you online that’s already there.
Use strong passwords
Since incidents of sextortion occur frequently as a result of compromised online security, strengthening password protection for online accounts can be the first line of defense to protect any sensitive information, including personal accounts or social media profiles.
Change your passwords regularly, and always use a different password for each platform. Strong and unique passwords (12 characters long, and a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols) for every account is the key to keeping your personal information safe.
If keeping track of numerous passwords proves difficult, you can use a password manager to keep your passwords securely in one place.
It’s common that blackmailers will try to use public information from your social media accounts against you, so share as little information as possible. Set your profiles to private in order to block potential blackmailers from accessing your list of friends.
Also, consider ceasing contact with any online connections you don’t know personally. Never add a friend you only know online, particularly if you’ve encountered them recently.
If the blackmail happens on a specific social media platform, report the incident immediately to the respective platform to prevent the blackmailer from targeting others.
Be aware of common scams
In many incidents of blackmail, the blackmailers are often bluffing, targeting hundreds of victims with the same blackmail scam, hoping someone will take the bait.
Therefore, it can be an asset to learn common scams to perhaps call their bluff immediately.
One common extortion attempt is when a blackmailer poses as an agent of the FBI, IRS, or other federal authority, claiming the target has committed a crime or owes money. They typically demand payment to “call off an arrest” or “reduce charges.”
Another bluff is when a blackmailer claims malware has been planted on a target’s computer and they’ve subsequently gained access to a webcam and/or browsing history. The blackmailer will often claim the target has “visited adult websites” and has been “recorded on camera.”
Opt out of data-broker sites
The less potential blackmailers can find out about you, the safer you are. Therefore, removing your information from data brokers is highly recommended to protect your privacy.
Data brokers gather huge amounts of personal information online and sell it onward for profit, often to the highest bidder. The profile they compile on you from this information could include everything from your phone number to your marital status.
Trust us, you would be shocked to know exactly how much data brokers know about you.
Unfortunately, transactions like these compromise your privacy, leading to junk mail, robocalls, spam texts, and potentially making you a clearer target for phishing, text scams, or identity theft. In some worst-case scenarios, they open you up to online blackmail or extortion.
In order to avoid your information ending up in the wrong hands, your profile needs to be deleted from each data-broker site, individually. You can go through this process manually using our free DIY opt-out guides. You can also sign up for our service.
If you’d like to take this next step to securing your personal information online, let DeleteMe help. For over ten years, our expert privacy teams have helped millions of customers remove their information from over 500 data-broker sites in operation in the U.S.
For as little as $10.75 a month, we can do the same for you. Visit us online for more information.
Keep up the fight against online blackmail
Blackmail on the Internet can be an awful situation, but, as you can see, there are ways to face it, address it, and take steps to protect yourself in the future.
Remember, the most important thing is to never give in to demands, collect evidence, and report it to authorities. Once you’ve reported the incident, you should focus on preventing it from ever happening again by taking measures to protect your Internet privacy.