How to Tell If a Sextortion Email is Real or Fake Featured Image

How to Tell If a Sextortion Email is Real or Fake

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In today’s digital age, the pervasiveness of spam emails is an everyday reality. But a message threatening to share intimate content of you unless you pay a ransom may give pause to even the most seasoned email user. So what signs should you look for to tell if sextortion email is real? The general rule of thumb is that almost all of these types of sextortion phishing emails you receive are “junk” or “spam” emails, with no credible threat behind them. However, acquainting yourself with the following common red flags of fake sextortion emails can help give you further peace of mind.

Most sextortion phishing emails send threats to dozens of potential victims at a time, hoping at least a few will take the bait. These kinds of emails tend to be riddled with grammar mistakes. They often follow a script you can easily find in Google search, and they usually demand payment in Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency. They are also vague, hoping you will believe their claims of hacking into your webcam or search history. If the email does not include specific proof that they have explicit content about you, it is likely spam.

At Minc Law, we have proven experience helping thousands of sextortion victims put an end to harassment. If the threat is legitimate, we can help directly take over communications with the sextortionist, lock down social media accounts and online profiles, and remove intimate content from the web (should it ever be posted).

This article explains how to tell the difference between fake and legitimate sextortion emails. We then explore the risks of ignoring a sextortion email, and how to respond to harassment from sextortion scammers in your email inbox.

How to Tell if Sextortion Email Is Real

You open your email inbox, and a strange message from an unfamiliar sender catches your eye. You click into the email—and a sense of dread immediately washes over you at the contents. The sender is threatening to share nude or explicit images of you unless you pay a ransom.

In these situations, it can be difficult to know whether to be alarmed. You may be unsure whether to believe the sextortion email or dismiss it as a baseless phishing attempt.

Below, we list a few telltale signs that can help you distinguish a sextortion phishing scam email from an actual blackmail attempt.

Look at Specific Evidence Pointing to Its Legitimacy

Most genuine sextortion emails include real evidence. A sextortionist may attach an explicit image, video, or screenshots of your actual messages and correspondences with them. If the email lacks specific proof of the sexual incident in question, it is likely a bluff.

Some phishing scammers gain victims’ sensitive information through large data breaches where they access usernames and passwords. If the email contains this type of information, you may want to check sites like Have I Been Pwned to see if your information was part of a wide-scale data breach.

If you have not noticed any suspicious activity on your devices or suddenly been locked out of any accounts, you likely only need to change your passwords and ignore the email.

Copy & Paste the Email into Google

One simple way to determine whether a sextortion email is real is to search online for key phrases from the email.

Many sextortion scams use repeated, generic scripts. In fact, it is increasingly common for sextortion rings to use similar tactics and phrasing when threatening victims. One recent NCRI study found sextortion scripts and training materials being widely circulated on TikTok, YouTube, and Scribd.

First, copy a unique or suspicious section of the email and paste it into a search engine. If it is a common email scam, you may find identical or similar wording used in other reported instances. You can also check scam databases like Scamwatch, Scam Detector, and the Better Business Bureau. You can copy and paste sections of the email into these platforms’ search tools to see if it matches any reported scams.

Finally, many online forums and discussion boards often have threads dedicated to discussing and identifying scams. You can paste sections of the email into these platforms to see if others have encountered similar messages.

Claim of a Personal Data Breach or Hack

A standard sextortion scam email is usually alarming in nature, with subject lines suggesting a personal data breach or hack. These messages are crafted to instill fear and urgency. Scammers often pose as professional hackers or system administrators, using technical jargon to intimidate the victim.

One common claim is that the scammer has hacked into your laptop webcam or has compromising footage of you visiting adult websites. Unless they send some kind of tangible proof, it is likely their claim is fabricated.

Look at the Language & Grammar Used

Because perpetrators often operate internationally, sextortion phishing emails usually include poor grammar or strange language. It is also common for the language in these emails to create a sense of urgency.

These emails are generally generic and intended to bait victims with convoluted text. The sender’s email address is usually not from a standard email service (like “” or “”). Instead, the email domain might be long and confusing. The email body will sometimes also contain extra letters and characters.

Evaluate Your Personal Risk & Chances It May Actually Exist

It can be scary to receive an email from a stranger claiming they have harmful information about you. But before you panic, take a moment to honestly assess whether there is any realistic chance that the compromising material could exist.

Most real sextortion scams start with the perpetrator tricking you into sending sexual images or content voluntarily. If you have never engaged in activities that could have been recorded or captured, the email is likely a baseless threat.

Request for Payment in Cryptocurrency

If the sender demands payment in Bitcoin or other crypto payment, this behavior is another major red flag. Sextortion phishing emails often include encrypted links to make payments via unregulated and irreversible methods.

Please see our comprehensive resource ‘How to Spot Sextortion Scams’.

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Should You Ignore a Sextortion Email?

It is a good rule of thumb to ignore fake sextortion emails since they are spam. In our experience, sextortionists and blackmailers typically prefer instant messaging through a social media platform or text app. However, some sextortionists do occasionally use email to harass their victims.

These phishing attempts come from scammers who cast a wide net, emailing dozens or hundreds of victims in the hopes that a few will take the bait.

However, there is always a risk that the emailer does have compromising information about you. This section discusses how to react to both real and fake sextortion emails to best ensure your privacy and digital footprint are protected.

What Happens if You Ignore a Sextortion Email?

If you ignore a fake sextortion email, then that is it. There is nothing you need to worry about moving forward. You continue on with your life as if nothing happened. Or, instead of completely ignoring the fake email, consider marking it as “junk” or “spam. This helps alert your email provider of malicious activity and may allow them to automatically send it to your spam folder the next time.

However, ignoring a sextortion email with actual proof of your intimate content is never recommended. Perhaps you recognize the email sender, or the email contains proof that the sender has explicit content about you. Or maybe you were recently chatting with an online acquaintance and shared intimate photos or videos.

If you believe the email is a credible threat, we never recommend burying your head in the sand and hoping the threat goes away. However, that does not mean that you should reply to the email. There are numerous actionable steps to protect yourself that do not include engaging directly with the scammer. We address these in greater detail in the section ‘What to Do If the Sextortion Email is Real’.

Regardless of the reason you believe the email is real, there are risks to ignoring legitimate sextortion emails. Some sextortionists may escalate their threats or even follow through on their intentions to share explicit content. Ignoring the situation does not guarantee the material will remain private.

On the psychological front, ignoring sextortion can cause significant emotional distress, anxiety, and self-blame. The decision to ignore such attempts should be weighed carefully against the potential risks and consequences.

It is essential to seek emotional support, report the incident to authorities, and consult with legal counsel specializing in cybercrime or sexual exploitation. Strengthening online security, adjusting privacy settings, and being cautious about sharing explicit material are crucial preventive measures​​.

For further reading, please see our comprehensive resources, ‘Can Sextortion Ruin Your Life?’ and ‘Do Sextortionists Give Up?’.

What if the Email Includes a Lot of Correct Information About You?

If the sextortion email contains specific information about you, it may be due to a data breach, social engineering, or purchased data.

It is normal to wonder how the scammer obtained your email address if they do not know intimate or dangerous details about you. The truth is that data breaches are increasingly common, and hackers can gain access to thousands of email addresses at once. These scammers send email blasts to every address on the list, hoping a small percentage of recipients will take the bait.

If you are worried about the amount of information displayed in the email, take a look at these reassuring facts:

Sextortion Email Includes Old or Current Password

If the sextortion email contains an old password and you have not noticed suspicious activity in that account, the hacker cannot access anything valuable. It may seem scary, but most passwords are stolen from data breaches.

An old password from a data breach demonstrates that the password has not been stolen directly from you, and it is invalid. We recommend creating strong passwords with the following characteristics:

  • 12 characters at minimum,
  • Both uppercase and lowercase letters,
  • Both symbols and numbers.

It is also recommended to choose a random word or phrase—not your dog’s name or child’s birthday—as cybercriminals often use social engineering to guess password contents.

Sextortion Email Includes Phone Number

If the sextortion email includes your phone number, it is likely due to social engineering or a data breach resulting in sold data. Many hackers obtain email addresses and phone numbers from exposed data breaches. Consumers often enter this information into websites at the same time, which is why your phone and email address may be linked.

Since it is uncommon to change phone numbers, a data breach from 2013 may be responsible for your phone number being publicly available.

The Email is From Your Own Email Address

It can be understandably distressing to receive an email “from your own email” as if the scammer has inside access to your device or profile. But hackers can easily manipulate the ‘from’ field in emails, making the message appear more threatening.

So if the sextortion email seems to be coming from your own email, do not panic. This tactic is a typical manipulation for cybercriminals.

How You Should Respond to a Fake Sextortion Email

In our extensive experience at Minc Law, we have never encountered a legitimate sextortion email. Almost all sextortionists prefer other means of communication. Our recommendation to anyone who has been the recipient of this type of email is to block the sender and delete the email.

If you have received a fake sextortion email, you can take the following steps to protect your security and peace of mind:

Recognize the Nature of the Threat

First, try not to panic. These emails are often sent in bulk and are not targeted personally. The lack of specific details about you in the email is a key indicator that you should not be too worried.

Avoid Responding or Engaging

Do not reply to the email. Responding can indicate to the scammer that your email is active, potentially leading to more spam, harassment, or scam attempts.

Avoid Clicking on Links or Opening Attachments

Cybercriminals regularly use links and attachments to introduce malware and viruses into their victims’ devices. Never click on a link or open an attachment from unknown or suspicious senders.

By looking for red flags in phishing emails, you can protect your personal information from being targeted and exploited by scammers.

Change Your Passwords

As a precautionary measure, change the passwords for your email and other important online accounts. This step is especially important if the sextortion email includes a password you have used in the past.

Tighten Your Social Media Settings

All major social media platforms allow users to choose who can see their profiles and posts. We recommend reviewing and strengthening your privacy settings to limit what information is publicly accessible.

Update Security Measures

Next, make sure your antivirus software is up-to-date. Consider using two-factor authentication for additional security on your accounts.

There are also cybersecurity services that provide protection against phishing emails by quarantining or blocking them from reaching your inbox.

For example, our team at Minc Law uses Guardz for our internal email security.

Report the Email to Your Provider

Finally, report the sextortion email to your email provider. For extreme cases, you can also report the cybercrime to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) or your local law enforcement.

What to Do If the Sextortion Email is Real

Falling prey to a sextortionist can be a frightening and isolating experience. Even if you have reason to believe the sextortion email is legitimate, there are still ways to end the harassment quickly and effectively. Do not pay the scammer because you know they have compromising content about you; paying a ransom almost never makes the problem go away.

If you believe the sextortion email is real, take the following steps immediately:

  • Stay calm and assess the situation,
  • Double-check the email once more,
  • Do not respond to the sender,
  • Preserve evidence of the email,
  • Adjust your online account privacy settings,
  • Report the incident to your email provider,
  • Report the email to law enforcement and cybercrime agencies, and
  • Consult a sextortion attorney.

Stay Calm & Assess the Situation

Sextortionists prey on your panic and fear to manipulate you into paying a ransom right away. Take a deep breath and try not to give in to your fear. Confide in a trusted family member or friend, and try to approach the situation calmly.

Double Check the Email Once More

Next, verify the email’s authenticity. Look for the red flags listed above. Does the email have any specific information about you or proof of the explicit content? If not, it is likely spam. Look for telltale signs like broken English and convoluted email addresses.

Do Not Respond

It can be risky to ignore a real sextortion email, but so is engaging with the scammer further. If you reply to their email, you may draw more attention to yourself. And the more you engage with them, the more information you give them to use against you.

Similarly, do not follow their instructions to pay a ransom or send additional explicit content. There is no guarantee that giving in to their demands will make them go away. In fact, most scammers will keep coming back asking for more.

For further reading, please see our comprehensive article ‘Should I Ignore Sextortion?’.

Preserve Evidence of the Email

It is natural to want to destroy any evidence of illicit or intimate content about yourself. But deleting evidence of the scam only makes it harder to hold the sextortionist accountable.

You will need proof if you want to report the scammer to law enforcement. Such proof includes:

  • Messages and emails between you,
  • The sextortionist’s email address,
  • URLs and screenshots of the sextortionist’s online profiles (if possible), and
  • URLs and screenshots of any online posts they made about you (if applicable).

It is also a good idea to create a complete timeline of the scam, starting from your first contact with the sextortionist. The more proof you have of the incident, the easier it will be for your lawyer and law enforcement to bring them to justice.

Adjust Your Online Account Privacy Settings & Profiles

Even if you have not been sextorted, it is wise to maximize your privacy settings on social media. But victims of online sextortion should especially prioritize protecting their privacy.

Setting all your social media profiles to private makes it harder for extortionists to use your personal information against you. Be wary of any new friend requests, and use caution when interacting with profiles outside your normal circle of friends—especially if they do not have many posts or photos.

Report the Incident to Your Email Provider

If you are receiving threats and harassment via email, it is a good idea to report them to their originating service provider. Check the sender’s email domain and report the incident to the domain host where it is registered. For instance, most emails originate from:

  • Gmail
  • Outlook
  • iCloud Mail
  • Yahoo! Mail
  • ProtonMail
  • AOL Mail

If the email domain is more obscure, you can try using ICANN Lookup to learn where the email originated. Scroll to Registrar Information to find the domain host. From there, you can contact that host and report the suspicious behavior.

Report the Email to Law Enforcement & Cybercrime Agencies

For instance of real sextortion or more extreme cases of phishing, you can report the incident to law enforcement. Consider filing a report with the following agencies:

  • Your local police,
  • Your local FBI Field Office,
  • Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3),
  • INTERPOL, and
  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Utilize Digital Risk Monitoring Services

Following a data breach or sextortion attack, it is crucial to monitor your digital footprint for subsequent threats. Digital risk protection (DRP) services act as an early warning sign by actively scanning the web for mentions of your name to identify and mitigate potential threats.

At Minc Law, we provide digital risk protection services for both individuals and businesses that want to comprehensively monitor the internet for damaging content and remove it at the source. DRP is especially useful for sextortion victims and businesses that have suffered a data breach and want to sleep peacefully at night knowing their reputations are being looked after.

Consult a Sextortion Attorney

An experienced sextortion attorney can help you devise a strategy for ending the sextortion quickly and efficiently. At Minc Law, we know how to communicate with sextortionists on your behalf, remove defamatory internet content, and monitor the internet for subsequent attacks and threats.

Perhaps most importantly, an experienced sextortion attorney can end the harassment discreetly, without drawing unneeded attention to the matter.


“I was recently a victim of a predator trying to extort me. I was lost and had not idea what to do till I found Minc Law. Dorrian and Anna were amazing, patient and completely understanding of my situation. I followed their expert advice and the problem went away and I fell like a weight has been lifted off my shoulder. I cannot thank Minc Law enough for protecting my reputation. I would recommend Minc Law to anyone in a similar situation. They are simply the best. Thanks you for everything.”

March 10, 2023

If you are the target of sextortion and would like to explore your options to put an end to it, reach out by calling us at (216) 373-7706 or by filling out our contact form. If you are a good fit for our sextortion services, we provide paid emergency sextortion consultations with a Minc Law attorney starting at $500.

Contact Minc Law

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