If someone threatens to publish or share intimate images or videos of you if you do not meet their demands for money or goods, you are dealing with sextortion. If you are the target of Facebook sextortion, here is what you should do:
- Remain calm. Panicking or threatening the perpetrator may make matters worse.
- Do not give in to the sextortionist’s demands to send them money.
- Preserve all communications with the perpetrator, as well as identifying information (such as their Facebook account URL).
- Maximize all privacy restrictions on your social media accounts and disable all social media accounts you do not regularly use.
- Report the sextortionist’s account by clicking their cover photo, selecting “Report Profile” and following the on-screen prompts.
- Report the suspicious activity to the FBI’s Internet Crimes Center using this form.
- Speak with law enforcement or an experienced Internet attorney for guidance.
- Set up a Google alert to monitor online posts, content, and mentions with your name.
At Minc Law, we have encountered all forms of online extortion. We know what it takes to stop private images and content from being released and can put an immediate end to online threats. Once we stop a sextortionist, we monitor the Internet for further Internet-related and sextortion attacks to ensure our clients are not victimized again.
In this article, we will describe the warning signs that a Facebook account might be a sextortionist or blackmailer with sinister motives. Then we will explain how to report the sextortion to Facebook and the FBI’s Internet Crimes division. Finally, we will look at ways to protect yourself from sextortion and what you should do if you are being targeted.
What Constitutes Facebook Sextortion?
If you are not familiar with the term, “sextortion,” it describes online extortion where the perpetrator threatens to share your intimate photos or videos unless you give in to their demands. Most often, the extortionist demands money in exchange for not posting your intimate and explicit images online for the world to see.
Sextortion goes by many names, so you may have heard it referred to as:
The fundamental difference between sextortion and other forms of extortion or blackmail is that sextortion involves a threat to reveal intimate images or videos if the perpetrator’s demands are not met.
While sextortion can happen anywhere online, this type of sexual exploitation crime is particularly rampant on social media.
Platforms Typically Used in Conjunction With Facebook Sextortion
While the conversation may start on Facebook, perpetrators of online sextortion often ask their victims to continue the dialog on a different platform. They might encourage you to email them, chat on Facebook messenger, Skype, or text on WhatsApp.
From there, they start to gain their victim’s trust – and gather as much information about them as possible. It is common for sextortionists to find out a victim’s full name, where they live, where they work, and names of friends and family. The conversations will be laced with flirtation, flattery, and sexually suggestive language.
If you have never found yourself dealing with a flatterer who uses their charm to manipulate you into trusting them, you might be surprised how effective the technique can be. In virtually no time at all, they will convince the victim they are trustworthy enough to have a quick video chat.
Identifying Facebook Sextortion: Common Facebook Sextortion Scenarios to Look Out For
With more than 2 billion monthly active users, Facebook is the most popular social media site in the world. In the United States alone, nearly 170 million users visit the social networking app on a monthly basis – more than twice the amount of monthly visitors on Twitter.
Clearly, Facebook is very popular and its reach is pervasive. Unfortunately, the platform’s popularity makes it a fertile breeding ground for sextortion scams. Here is how sextortion typically plays out on the platform:
Most Common Facebook Sextortion Scenario: The Random Facebook Friend Request
A stranger, usually of the opposite sex, makes a friend request or sends you a direct message. Not to be rude or genuinely intrigued, you respond and start chatting with the charming stranger.
After some sweet-talking, the person who no longer seems like a stranger perhaps convinces you to share intimate and sexually explicit photos, videos, or messages. Or they invite you to a video call – either on Facebook or another platform such as Skype, Google Hangouts, Snapchat or WhatsApp and the conversation quickly turns sexual. After you share nude images or engage in an explicit conversation, things take a drastic turn for the worse.
The stranger suddenly threatens to share your private images, videos, or text messages by sending them to your friends and family on Facebook, posting them in a YouTube video, or publishing them elsewhere online. They tell you that you can avoid the mortification, shame, and crushing embarrassment by sending them money.
Who is Really Behind Those Too Good to Be True Facebook Profiles & Friend Requests?
The sexually desirous stranger sending you a random friend request on Facebook is rarely the person they claim to be. The person featured in their profile image is most likely a model’s picture taken from the Internet. The fake persona is certainly attractive because people are more likely to accept a friend request from a good-looking stranger.
Some sextortion rings have grown large and sophisticated, but virtually all sextortionists follow the same game plan. They message and flirt with their target until the victim agrees to a video chat or some other means by which intimate images can be shared. If you agree to do a video chat, the person on the other end will probably look somewhat like the person in the profile picture and will attempt to engage you in sexually suggestive conversation.
On occasion, all you see is a video that has been pre-recorded. More often, the video is in fact a live interaction, but of extremely poor quality. Nearly always, they will say their microphone is broken or have some other excuse so they can only chat via text.
Their goal is to get you (the victim) to drop your guard, usually with flattery and compliments. They will do whatever is necessary to convince you to take off your clothes on camera and/or perform some salacious act. As soon as they get what they want – the extortion begins. Once that happens, it is commonly a male voice making the demands (even if the profile picture is a woman).
How to Report Sextortion on Facebook
Sextortion can be terrifyingly embarrassing. Unfortunately, many sextortion victims are hesitant to report sextortion or reach out to others to seek help because they are genuinely mortified and terrified of whatever judgment of them they feel would result.
Before reporting Facebook sextortion, we recommend saving screenshots of your conversation with the perpetrator as well as their contact information. We will cover these steps in the section, “How to Protect Yourself From Sextortionists & Blackmailers on Facebook.”
Where Can You Report Sextortion or Blackmail on Facebook?
Facebook has a Safety Center that provides detailed information on stopping sextortion. To curb this activity on their platform, Facebook provides several options for reporting sexual blackmail.
If you have discovered the Facebook account is fake (e.g. the sextortionist pretended to be a woman, but now you are receiving threats from a man) you can report the account as fake.
You can also report a Facebook profile, comments, or an image as general abuse. If you want to get the account suspended quickly it helps to report the account in multiple ways. Also, get as many others (friends, family, and other people you trust) as you can to report the account as well.
Report a Fake Facebook Account
One of the safest ways to report an account and remain under the radar is to report the profile as a fake account. Facebook’s Community Standards do not allow fake accounts – where someone pretends to be someone else or someone who does not exist. Reporting with this method could potentially lead to the suspension of the extortionist’s account without tipping them off that you made the report.
To report a fake Facebook account:
- Navigate to the profile of the fake account.
- Click under the cover photo and select ‘Find Support’ or ‘Report Profile’.
- Follow the on-screen instructions for fake accounts to file a report.
When I want to get an account suspended on behalf of a client, I report the account, have the client report the account, and get several coworkers to report it as well. The more reports Facebook receives, the quicker it acts.
Report the Facebook Account for General Abuse
If you are dealing with sextortion or blackmail on Facebook, you can report the abusive behavior. To report sextortion on Facebook:
- Click on the three dots “…” on the upper right corner of any post by the perpetrator.
- Click “Find Support or Report Photo.”
- Select the option that best describes your problem.
Worth noting, however, is that we try other methods of dealing with sextortion at Minc Law. Sometimes, reporting an account only serves to agitate the perpetrator – making matters worse. In some cases that is a risk that must be taken; other times, it is not. They might also have many accounts, so they can continue or even escalate the unwanted behavior even if one account is suspended.
To be clear, Facebook takes sextortion seriously and encourages you to report anyone participating in this kind of activity. Facebook also suggests you contact your local law enforcement because sextortion is a crime.
File a Complaint With the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
In addition to reporting the content to Facebook, you can also file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Reporting the cybercrime to the FBI may not yield immediate benefits – but it will draw attention to the scam for tracking purposes. Informing the FBI could lead to the discovery of sophisticated sextortion schemes and may help reduce these types of threats over time.
To make an FBI IC3 report, simply fill out their short form. The FBI website provides a detailed explanation of the process for filing a complaint, as well as answers to other common questions.
What Happens When You Report Sextortion on Facebook?
After you report sextortion on Facebook, administrators review the image or profile for violations of Facebook’s Community Standards. If the content violates any Facebook rules, they will either remove the account or the reported content. However, Facebook does not guarantee the removal of any content – suspending accounts is within their complete discretion.
Facebook does not reveal any information about users that reported the account or image, so you can remain anonymous. However, you can privately check the status of your report in your Support Inbox.
Steps to Take When You Are Being Extorted or Blackmailed on Facebook
Step 1: Remain Calm
This may be easier said than done, but it is imperative that you remain calm. If you start panicking, try to walk away from the situation and collect yourself. When we panic, we do not always think clearly – you must maintain your wits when dealing with a scam artist whose goal is to make you panic which results in poor decisions.
Step 2: Do Not Give in to the Extortionist’s Demands
Do not give in to any of the extortionist’s demands to send them money. No amount of money will guarantee the deletion of your video or images as they are promising. In fact, sending money will only embolden them to attempt to get more out of you. Their demands will continue to increase until you finally take a stand.
Step 3: Maximize Privacy Restrictions on All Social Media Accounts
As soon as possible, maximize all privacy restrictions on your social media accounts (not just Facebook). Disable any accounts that you do not use.
If they attempt to send you any WhatsApp messages, screenshot them as soon as they arrive so they are not automatically deleted.
Step 4: Preserve all Communications with the Perpetrator
Preserve all communications – across every platform and device – that you had with the perpetrator. The best way to do this is to screenshot conversations, the extortionist’s Facebook URL, and any other contact information you have for them.
Create a list of any user handles, screen names, or email addresses the other person is using. If they sent you any images, save screenshots of them as well.
Step 5: Consult With Law Enforcement or an Online Extortion Attorney
Seek guidance from law enforcement or an experienced online extortion lawyer before you block all forms of communication with the user. Once you consult with the appropriate authorities you can take steps to block the person making threats.
Check out our comprehensive blog post written by attorney Andrew Stebbins answering a common question we receive, ‘Do sextortionists follow through?’.
How to Protect Yourself From Sextortionists & Blackmailers on Facebook
The first step toward protecting yourself from any crime is education. You are less likely to be victimized if you are well-informed about a particular extortion threat.
There are some recurring patterns and warning signs that indicate you could be dealing with a sextortionist:
- You receive a message or friend request from a Facebook user with a provocative profile picture.
- You have no mutual friends or other connections with the user.
- The user invites you to another website to see pictures they are not allowed to post on Facebook.
- They ask you to appear on camera for a private video chat. Remember: the video you see might be a recording or someone other than the extortionist.
Even well-informed adults can fall victim to a sexually provocative scam artist. If you have already encountered Facebook blackmail you should not feel ashamed – the professionals who deal with these matters are around to help, not judge.
Information You Should Avoid Sharing Online
Social media makes it easier to share information than ever before. Sadly, most of us are not fully aware of all the information we are sharing with others online. Facebook makes it easy to share everything from your hometown to your parents’ names, work history, and relationship status.
In the past, criminals and con artists rarely had this amount of personal information at their disposal. Today, social media provides a treasure trove of information that, in the wrong hands, can be used to harm and manipulate.
Armed with your personal information, sextortionists can be more intimidating – often threatening to send your images to family members and employers (the last people you want to see such content). If you accepted the person’s friend request on Facebook, they have likely access to your friends list and perhaps a good idea of where you live and work, meaning they could potentially follow through with their threats.
One way to avoid sharing information that could be used against you is to set your Facebook account to private. You can also adjust settings so that even Facebook friends cannot see who else is on your friends list.
What Account Settings Should You Use to Protect Yourself From Sextortion on Facebook
Facebook was designed for connecting with people you already know (or with whom you share mutual acquaintances). Accepting friend requests or messages from random strangers is rarely in your best interest – you never know who you could be dealing with.
Your Facebook settings can also be used to control what appears on your timeline, who can tag you in a post, view your posts, or see your friends list. You can also ensure any tagged content that others share featuring you, has to be approved first. These are smart restrictions to set regardless of extortion because they help you control your online reputation and what others may see.
What Should You Do if a Facebook Sextortionist Contacts You?
If a Facebook blackmailer contacts you, remember: do not give in to their demands and try to remain calm. Extortionists try to get their victims in a state of panic so they can exert more pressure and control. Panicking only gives them more power.
You might be tempted to respond with threats of your own, but this only makes matters more personal and worse. Your best bet is to stay calm and collected about the situation. Similar to panic, anger could lead to foggy thinking and poor choices.
Likewise, giving in to their demands only serves to make you a more attractive target. Once they know their methods work on you, they will continue with increasingly aggressive behavior.
After an extortionist contacts you, your first step should be saving all communications with them. Then, set up Google Alerts for your name (or your business, if applicable) or some other digital monitoring service so you can track new online content posted with your name.
Finally, take efforts to secure your privacy settings. If you have any dormant accounts, go ahead and disable them so they cannot be hacked or targeted.
When to Seek Legal Help with Facebook Sextortion
If you are being sextorted on Facebook, the best time to seek help is immediately. Sextortion is a violation of your rights and legal professionals can help. Many experienced Internet attorneys offer free consultations, so there is often no cost to get some initial guidance.
You can also report the crime to your local authorities. Beyond that, we recommend completing an FBI IC3 report so they can track the perpetrator’s behavior. This may also prevent further harm to others.
How Can Minc Law Help Victims of Facebook Sextortion?
The attorneys at Minc Law are here to help and guide you if you are facing a sextortionist or blackmailer on Facebook. Every year, we represent dozens of victims of sextortion. We have seen Facebook extortion in all of its forms and dealt with all kinds of threats. Sextortion is serious enough to call for a stern and well-crafted response that lets the perpetrator know they have targeted the wrong victim.
If the sextortionist is foolish enough to post any compromising content, we act swiftly to get the content removed and the offending accounts suspended. Eventually, the con artists realize they need to move on because you are not a profitable target to them.
“I’d highly recommend this firm. They are professional and diligent, as well as understanding and comforting. Dan is a class act, exactly they type of person you want in your corner.”
CC, Nov 10, 2020
If you would like to get actionable advice and develop a strategy for responding to sextortion, we offer free, no-obligation consultations. Together we can preserve your online reputation and get your life back to normal. Contact our office for more information by speaking with a Chat Representative, filling out our contact form, or calling us at (216) 373-7706.