What to Do If You Are the Target of Ashley Madison Blackmail
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Blackmail feels like something that only happens to other people. But becoming the target of Ashley Madison blackmail is more common than you would think—and if you do not handle it quickly, it can have devastating effects.
If a blackmailer targets you through Ashley Madison, we recommend taking the following actions:
- Stay calm,
- Do not give in to the blackmailer’s demands,
- Preserve all evidence of communication with the blackmailer,
- Lock down your social media accounts,
- Report the blackmail to the appropriate authorities, and
- Work with an experienced internet blackmail attorney.
At Minc Law, we have proven experience helping victims of blackmail, extortion, and sextortion. We can unmask anonymous perpetrators, remove unwanted content from the internet, and take legal action against the blackmailer to obtain immediate and effective relief.
In this article, we define Ashley Madison blackmail. Then, we provide actionable tips for preventing and responding to online blackmail and sextortion.
What Constitutes Blackmail on Ashley Madison?
The Ashley Madison Agency (commonly referred to simply as Ashley Madison) is a highly controversial social networking site for extramarital affairs.
AshleyMadison.com was named for the two most popular names for women in North America in 2001, the time the site was founded. It is a place where users interested in extramarital liaisons can find each other.
Web traffic experts estimate that the site has almost 75 million users. Signups skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic, peaking at more than 21,000 new members daily by September 2020.
The highest percentage of Ashley Madison users—at 28%—are in the United States. The three next popular countries are Brazil, Canada, and Spain.
The site’s slogan, “Life is short. Have an affair,” is clear enough about its uses and controversial status. The nature of the website also makes it easy for scams and blackmail schemes to take place.
Definition of Blackmail
A criminal commits blackmail by threatening to reveal damaging information about a victim unless they make a payment or meet some other demand. Some perpetrators do not ask for money but instead for sexual favors, information, or other demands that give them even more power over their victims.
State laws regarding blackmail vary, but the federal statute 18 U.S.C. § 873 defines a blackmailer as “Whoever, under a threat of informing, or as a consideration for not informing, against any violation of any law of the United States, demands or receives any money or other valuable thing”.
It is important to understand that for blackmail, the threat is the crime. As soon as a blackmailer threatens you, they are violating the law—regardless of if you pay them.
Most Popular Forms of Blackmail Scams on Ashley Madison
At Minc Law, we most often see the following types of Ashley Madison blackmail scenarios:
- Sugar baby scams,
- Traditional sextortion,
- Phishing, and
- Catfishers and bots.
We examine each type of scam below.
Sugar Baby Blackmail
A “sugar baby” is an individual who is financially provided for or given gifts by a “sugar daddy” or “sugar momma.” This is in exchange for sexual or non-sexual companionship and favors. Unlike traditional online sextortion scams, which typically involve perpetrators living in a different country, some sugar baby relationships result in numerous in-person meet-ups over time.
These relationships tend to last as long as both parties remain interested and more importantly, as long as the money or gifts continue to benefit the sugar baby.
Eventually, the relationship may turn sour. Perhaps the sugar daddy attempts to cut off contact, or they ask for more money than you wish to provide. The sugar baby then blackmails you with threats to reveal your relationship (or other sensitive information about you) unless they receive payment.
Sextortion (Sexual Blackmail)
Unfortunately, sextortion is extremely common in all corners of the internet, from dating apps and social networking sites to online forums and chat tools.
In this scenario, an attractive person (or at least a user with an attractive profile picture) lures you into performing intimate acts on a webcam or sending intimate photos of yourself. Once you have sent that compromising media, they use it to blackmail you. They threaten to release intimate images or videos to your friends and family unless you pay them.
Due to the widespread nature of these types of scams, you should use extreme caution when engaging with a new connection online. Red flags of a scammer include:
- They seem too good to be true,
- Their messages immediately become sexual and flirty,
- Their profile bio and messages appear to be translated from another language,
- They quickly try to move your conversation to another app or platform.
To learn more about how to identify and protect yourself against sextortion on the internet, see our article: “How to Spot & Avoid Sextortion Scams.”
Data Breach Phishing Scam
In an infamous data breach in July 2015, a group of hackers called “The Impact Team” infiltrated Ashley Madison and threatened to publish users’ personal information if the site did not shut down. When the site did not capitulate, the hackers released the private information of thousands of account users—including several politicians, actors, and other prominent societal figures.
That user data—including real names, addresses, credit card transaction history, and search activity—is now available online across several sites like Trustify and HaveIBeenPwned.com.
Almost immediately, cybercriminals and blackmailers used that publicly available data to target Ashley Madison users. They emailed victims, threatening to expose their Ashley Madison accounts and user history publicly unless the victim pays a ransom. Some blackmailers also sent letters targeting Ashley Madison users’ spouses.
Catfishers & Bots
In the 2015 data breach, the hackers also exposed that Ashley Madison profiles are only about 15% women—and most of those accounts are fake. In fact, the hackers estimated that 90-95% of the site’s users are men, and Ashley Madison creates falsified female accounts to attract male subscribers.
Some scammers use bots—programs designed to pose as a human and interact with humans—to exploit Ashley Madison users. Most dating sites use algorithms and protocols to identify bots, but they are not always successful.
Once a bot creates an account on Ashley Madison, it can match with human users and begin a conversation. Some advanced bots can generate convincingly human messages that make you think you are chatting with a real person.
Some scammers use bots to catfish multiple victims at once. Once they have lured a victim into embarrassing or intimate activity, the scammer uses that information or media to blackmail the victim.
What to Do if You Are the Target of Blackmail on Ashley Madison
If a blackmailer is threatening to reveal proof of your Ashley Madison account unless you meet their demands, it is essential to remain calm and act quickly. Below, we outline how to respond to Ashley Madison blackmail to mitigate harm to your reputation and personal life.
First, do not panic. It is understandably worrying to be the target of such threats but remember: Ashley Madison does not vet users’ information.
Anyone can sign up on behalf of anyone else. Someone could have used your email address to create an account, but that is not proof you ever visited the site. As security expert Graham Cluley wrote at the time of the infamous 2015 data breach, “I could have created an account at Ashley Madison with the address of firstname.lastname@example.org, but it wouldn’t have meant that Obama was a user of the site.”
Even though it can be stressful to be threatened and harassed online, try to stay calm. The blackmailer is hoping you will panic and pay them right away.
Refrain From Giving into the Blackmailer’s Demands
You may not feel like you have any other choice but to pay the blackmailer—but this is not true. The scammer is hoping you will react quickly out of fear.
Instead, stop engaging with the blackmailer and cut off all communication with them immediately. Giving in to their demands—or even responding to their threats—just shows you can be manipulated.
And of course, just because you pay them once does not mean they will stop harassing you. It is much more likely that they will keep returning with more demands for money or other favors.
In most traditional sextortion scams, the general rule of thumb is to cut off all contact immediately and never pay the scammer. But this advice becomes a bit more complicated in scenarios where you know the blackmailer personally.
In sugar baby situations, for instance, it may be much riskier to cut the relationship off immediately. If you have met in person and they know personal details about you—such as where you live and whether you have a family—you may need to exercise more tact and caution when cutting ties with the perpetrator.
Preserve All Communications & Evidence
Next, save proof of every interaction you have had with the blackmailer.
Your first instinct may be to delete embarrassing evidence. Still, without proof of the blackmail, it becomes much harder for your attorney and law enforcement to bring the perpetrator to justice.
Take screenshots of their profile(s) and all messages, posts, and images or files they have sent you. Document any information you know about them, such as:
- User handles,
- Email addresses, and
- Screen names.
Lock Down Your Social Media Accounts
As soon as you receive harassment or threats online, it is crucial to set all of your online accounts to private right away. Most social media platforms allow users to restrict who has access to information about them and who can contact them.
You may also want to block the blackmailer if you are friends or connections on social media. Just be sure to take screenshots of your messages before you block them.
Report the Blackmail to Ashley Madison
Ashley Madison’s Terms of Service recommends reporting any profile that you believe is fraudulent or engages in suspicious, harassing, or threatening behavior – this includes any requests for money.
To report an account on Ashley Madison, click the three dots icon in the upper right-hand corner of the blackmailer’s profile and select ‘Report’.
You may also flag and report a suspicious account by contacting Ashley Madison support at email@example.com.
Report the Blackmail to the Appropriate Authorities
The Hobbs Act makes extortion a federal crime, so you may want to contact your local FBI field office. Or if you believe your blackmailer is overseas, you can report the blackmail to the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).
If you do not want to file a complaint with the FBI, your local law enforcement may have a cyber crimes division or unit to assist you. We recommend using a search engine to locate the nearest precinct office and calling or visiting them in person to file a complaint.
It is worth mentioning that while it is often a good idea to involve law enforcement, in some cases, it may not be the appropriate course of action. Every blackmail situation is unique.
That is why we always recommend reaching out to an attorney before making a report to law enforcement. An experienced internet attorney can advise you on your options and build an effective response strategy to handle the blackmail as discreetly as possible.
Report the Blackmail to Online Service Platforms & Email Providers
If the blackmailer contacted you through a social media or messaging website or app, use the appropriate reporting process to flag the account or message(s) for a violation of the platform’s Terms of Service.
For example, you may report an account or post on Facebook by clicking the three dots in the upper right-hand corner of the profile or post.
If the blackmailer is threatening you over email, you can report their account to the appropriate service provider. Check their email domain (such as “hotmail.com”) to learn which provider to contact. The most common service providers can be contacted through these links:
- Yahoo! Mail
- AOL Mail
Work With an Experienced Internet Blackmail Attorney
Blackmail can be both a criminal and civil offense, so you likely have several legal options. Assuming you know the identity of your blackmailer, you may be able to use a civil remedy such as an injunction, emergency restraining order, or civil lawsuit to obtain relief.
An attorney can review your unique situation and help you determine which options are in your best interest. They can also help you decide on a course of action based on its possible ramifications and how far you want to go to hold your blackmailer accountable.
If you have a complicated relationship with the perpetrator—such as a long-term sugar baby relationship—it can be hard to cut ties. An attorney can help make a plan to end your relationship as discreetly and diplomatically as possible.
And if the blackmailer has already published any explicit content of you online, an experienced internet attorney can help you remove it. They can also provide trusted advice and a sympathetic ear as you endure the stress of blackmail.
For further reading, please see our comprehensive guide explaining how to deal with blackmail.
Steps to Take to Protect Yourself From Ashley Madison Blackmail
If your Ashley Madison account was part of a large-scale data breach, there is little you can do to prevent being vulnerable to blackmailers. You should use the strategies listed previously to deal with harassment and threats if and when they arise.
But if you are simply concerned about the potential for being scammed while using sites like Ashley Madison, there are a few ways to protect yourself and your privacy. Listed below are a few tips for interacting with strangers online in the safest way possible.
Learn the Telltale Signs of a Catfisher
The best way to protect yourself from exploitation on social networking and dating sites like Ashley Madison is to learn to spot red flags. If a new connection shows any of these characteristics, it may be a fake persona:
- Very few interactions or friends on their profile,
- Wild or outlandish stories that appear too good to be true,
- Extremely flirtatious or sexual language right away,
- Requests for money.
Be Cautious of New Online Connections
Always be skeptical of friend requests from people you do not know. If you are on Ashley Madison, odds are good that every new match is with a stranger. You have no way of knowing if anyone is who they say they are—so treat each new connection like a potential catfishing scam.
Keep your guard up until you have a very good reason to believe the person is who they claim to be.
Set Your Social Media Accounts to Private
It is easy to forget how much personal information we publish about ourselves on social media sites. If you are engaging in online dating or having regular interactions with strangers on Ashley Madison, it is a good idea to protect yourself against malicious attacks.
Make it difficult for scammers to do background research on you by setting all of your online accounts to private. Maximize the privacy settings on all your social profiles, and use strong passwords for each website.
For further reading, please see our comprehensive resource explaining what to do if you are the victim of Instagram blackmail.
Avoid Opening Suspicious Links or Attachments
Many scammers send emails claiming to have access to damaging information about you, but their goal is to trick you into clicking a link or attachment. This link may contain a malware virus that lets the scammer access sensitive files or lock you out of your computer.
Never click on any links or open attachments from an unknown source. If you believe the blackmail message is an email phishing scam, delete the email and put filters in place to prevent that sender from emailing you again.
Avoid Sharing Personal Information With Strangers Online
Be careful what information you share on your social media and online profiles. Blackmailers aim to find “dirt” on their victims, so do not make it easy for them.
Maximizing your privacy settings is a good first step, but you should also exercise caution when deciding what kind of information to share publicly. Do not overshare on your social media profiles, and be wary of getting too personal with new online “friends” too quickly.
Avoid Sharing Intimate Images & Videos
Finally, never assume that a sexually explicit video or image will remain private once you send it to someone else. Even if you trust your romantic partner, your relationship may eventually turn sour—or their cloud may be hacked.
The best way to avoid the dangers of sexting is to resist sharing this content in the first place.
How Experienced Internet Attorneys Can Help You Combat Ashley Madison Blackmail
When an extortionist is threatening and harassing you, it is normal to feel overwhelmed and helpless. But please know that you are not alone.
An experienced internet attorney can provide a compassionate ear, seasoned advice, and an effective strategy for responding to the blackmailer. In this section, we provide tips for finding the right legal team to represent and defend you.
What to Look For in a Legal Team When Tackling Ashley Madison Blackmail
The legal field is wide and varying, and you need an attorney with proven experience in your specific situation. You would not go to a cardiologist for brain surgery, and in the same way, you should not hire a family lawyer to handle an internet blackmail case.
The right legal team for you will demonstrate the following characteristics:
- Proven experience dealing with online blackmail and extortion;
- Testimonials from satisfied clients;
- Helpful resources on their website with information on responding to blackmailers; and
- Transparency, with a registered address, Google Maps profile, and licenses and other information on their site confirming their validity as a law firm.
How to Locate an Experienced Blackmail Attorney
To find the right sextortion attorney for you, start by asking your family, friends, and coworkers for personal recommendations. You can also find attorneys in your area by searching keywords like “online sextortion lawyer + [your state]”.
Legal databases like Avvo and Lawyers.com can also help you find reputable legal teams near you. You can also check with your local bar association. These databases will also show you whether the attorney has had any accusations of ethical violations in the past.
For more information on choosing the right attorney, see our list of 33 questions to ask when hiring an internet defamation lawyer.
How Minc Law Can Help Targets of Ashley Madison Blackmail
If you are the target of Ashley Madison blackmail, it is crucial to act quickly. By hiring an experienced legal team, you demonstrate to the blackmailer that you have experienced professionals on your side. The blackmailer will realize that continuing to threaten you will be more trouble than it is worth, and they will often move on.
In most cases, we also recommend reporting the blackmail to your local police and filling out an FBI IC3 report.
If a blackmailer is threatening you, our team at Minc Law can help. We represent dozens of internet blackmail victims yearly and have seen every type of internet harassment. We can provide objective advice, communicate with the perpetrator on your behalf, and take control of the situation to minimize drawing unwanted attention.
“I highly recommend the Minc Law firm. Not only were they knowledgeable, professional and timely in resolving my matter, but they were a pleasure to work with. Dan, Darcy and Melanie thank you for everything! My only regret was not engaging the firm earlier.”
Oct 4, 2021
We offer paid sextortion consultations with an experienced Minc Law blackmail and sextortion attorney for $500. To schedule your consultation, call us at (216) 373-7706, speak with a chat representative, or fill out our online contact form.
Dean Takahashi. Ashley Madison: Extramartial Affairs Soar in Pandemic With Technology's Help. VentureBeat (2020).
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Is a Child Being Sexually Exploited Online? Report It Here (2023).