In this all-encompassing article and guide, we’re going to take you through how to report internet blackmail, how to respond to internet blackmail and harassment, some of the most common blackmail scams on the Internet, alternative Internet blackmail help solutions, U.S. internet blackmail laws, and more!
Before reporting Internet blackmail, we first recommend ceasing correspondence with the perpetrator. Also, make sure to minimize all channels by which a blackmailer can contact you – this includes setting all of your online profiles to “private.” To report Internet blackmail, we recommend following these three steps:
- Preserve all blackmail, evidence, and communications,
- Report Internet blackmail to the police,
- Contact and work with an experienced Internet blackmail attorney.
In the United States, blackmail is illegal and most often classified as a criminal offense – meaning it carries punitive punishments for convicted perpetrators. Specifically, blackmail (including Internet blackmail) is codified by 18 U.S.C. § 873. However, most states have their own blackmail legislation in their books, which you can read up further on in Section 4.
Online Sextortion Protection Tip: Have you received highly sexual and invasive messages online, or been threatened to have personal and intimate photographs made public by an individual? Check out our comprehensive blog posts on the subject, “How to Report Sextortion” and “How to Deal with Sextortion on the Internet“.
If you’ve been the victim of Internet blackmail, online extortion, sextortion, online stalking, or online harassment, and want it to stop, reach out to the experienced Internet Defamation attorneys of Minc Law today! At Minc Law, we know the ins and outs of U.S. defamation and libel laws and know what it takes to put an effective end to malicious and unwanted online attacks and abuse.
What are you waiting for? Let’s put an end to online abuse today!
In our tenure as experienced defamation and internet harassment lawyers, we’ve built up a comprehensive suite of legal tactics to secure permanent defamation and libel removals, identify anonymous online trolls and posters, and hold individuals liable for their illegal online actions. Additionally, we’ve helped remove over 25,000 pieces of false and libelous content/web pages, litigated in over 22 states and 3 countries, and boast a nearly 100% online defamation takedown rate.
And, we conduct certain defamation removals all for a flat, reasonable fee.
We understand that internet blackmail, defamation, and cyber extortion can be extremely stressful and invasive, so rest assured you’re in good hands when working with the Cleveland-based attorneys of Minc Law.
Contact us today to schedule your free, initial no-obligation consultation by calling us at (216) 373-7706 or by filling out our contact form online.
What’s the Definition of Internet Blackmail?
Falling under the wide umbrella of “extortion,” Internet blackmail is the threatened revelation of personal or intimate information (including photographs, videos, and other media) to the general public or specific group (friends, family members, loved ones).
Internet blackmail generally includes the threatened revelation and dissemination of highly embarrassing, private, and damaging information or media. And, should a victim fail to give in to a “blackmailer’s” demands, the damaging material will subsequently be released to a specific audience or platform.
Public humiliation is typically at the center of every Internet blackmail claim.
So, how does Internet blackmail differ from cyber extortion?
The fundamental difference between Internet blackmail and cyber extortion is that cyber extortion (or extortion in general) generally includes a threat of imminent or future harm. Internet blackmail rarely gives rise to a harmful physical act. Internet blackmail is generally carried out for a perpetrator’s personal gain of property, money, or position.
Several common names for Internet blackmail include:
In certain cases, online blackmail may sometimes be referred to as ‘Cyber extortion,’ which you can read further about by checking out our comprehensive article, “What to Do If Someone Is Blackmailing You Online“.
Thanks to modern technology, the rise of user-generated content platforms and online bulletin boards, and sophisticated phishing and malware scams, Internet blackmail has become an all too common occurrence. Let’s now take a look at several of the most popular Internet blackmail schemes to beware of on the web.
Online Defamation Removal Tip: While it may seem like common sense to contact a website administrator or host to remove defamatory and libelous materials/content, they actually enjoy near-blanket immunity under a specific piece of Internet legislation (Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act), so there’s a good chance you’ll be met with resistance. If you’ve been the victim of online defamation, typically, the best avenue of legal recourse is seeking to identify an anonymous online poster/troll and holding them liable.
Most Common Internet Blackmail Scams, Schemes, & Threats
With global cybercrime estimated to be a $6 trillion dollar industry by 2021, it’s no surprise that Internet blackmail, cyber extortion, and other cyber-crimes account for more than 50% of all crimes committed in certain countries. And, Internet blackmail and other cyber-crimes don’t just target individuals either, an estimated 78% of organizations polled in a 2019 Imperva Cyberthreat Defense Report were affected by a successful cyber-attack in 2018.
On top of that, the United States is considered one of the epicenters of cybercrime and malware attacks. Specifically, North America consistently ranks at the top of the list for the highest indirect costs associated with compromised records, all while accounting for 57% of all cybercrime attacks.
In this section, we’re going to walk you through the most common Internet blackmail scams, schemes, and threats out there, how to identify them, and more!
Keep in mind that internet blackmail scams can take many different forms, and isn’t always obvious at first, so make sure to approach all online strangers, bulletin boards, and user-generated content websites and applications with caution.
1. Internet Blackmail Skype Scam
If you’ve ever video chatted or voice called a friend or family member, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Skype – one of the most popular telecommunication applications available. Unsurprisingly, Internet blackmailers and sextortion scammers flock to where large numbers of users exist. Furthermore, the use of video calling on Skype exponentially opens the doors for online blackmailers, sextortioners, and harassers.
One of the most common Internet blackmail schemes involves a Skype friend or chat request from a complete stranger. Typically, the user sending the request is an attractive member of the opposite sex. After engaging in short chit-chat, the blackmailer is quick to jump into a video-call, which inevitably turns sexual – and fast.
After engaging in sexual acts or conversation on video, the sextortioner or online blackmailer will then threaten to distribute recorded clips of the encounter to friends, family, or colleagues – unless a ransom is paid.
At Minc Law, we strongly recommend conducting an extensive reverse image search of a stranger’s profile picture before engaging with them. Oftentimes, the perpetrator is using a stolen photograph of a model or other individual. We also recommend against sending explicit sexual images of oneself to a complete stranger or engaging in sexual acts on camera.
If you’ve been the victim of Skype or Facebook sextortion or internet extortion, or another popular social media platform and application, reach out to an experienced Internet attorney as soon as possible.
2. Internet Blackmail Bitcoin Scam
With Bitcoin’s recent bull market run, cryptocurrencies and blockchain-related services are becoming more mainstream. Inevitably, Bitcoin internet blackmail scams are on the rise. One common Internet blackmail scam which is on the rise (since early-2018) is the Bitcoin email blackmail scam.
Simply put, the Internet blackmail Bitcoin scam involves a threatening email (it will usually show up in your spam folder, however; it may slip through the cracks). The email generally alleges there has been a large-scale data breach, and that highly sensitive personal information or imagery was acquired by the sender. In exchange for keeping the highly private information, photographs, or videos under wraps, the sender demands a payment in Bitcoin.
This script is usually sent to thousands of people, preying on the naivety of senior citizens and other highly susceptible persons. Any demand that you pay in Bitcoin is a dead giveaway that you are dealing with a scam. Additionally, the language used is typically rife with spelling and grammar errors, as it is sent from overseas blackmailers and scammers.
If you are worried about whether your data and personal information has been compromised, we recommend checking out haveIbeenpwned.com and entering your email address. To read up further on how to avoid the Bitcoin blackmail scam, we also recommend checking out this FTC.gov article.
3. Dating Website & App Online Blackmail
Dating websites and applications are hotbeds for online blackmail, sextortion, and harassment, due to the nature of the relationship sought online – a boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner. Dating website and application users are often more vulnerable than typical social media, email, or Skype-user due to their intent behind using the platform/website.
Some of the most common websites used by Internet blackmailers and sextortioners include:
While several of the aforementioned are used solely on a person’s phone, internet blackmailers and harassers will often strive to move the conversation to a more intimate or personal medium (ex. Skype, Facebook Messenger, or SMS).
Similar to the above Skype blackmail scam, dating website and application blackmail schemes involve an attractive member of the opposite sex, who then initiates a highly sexual conversation or video call, which is threatened to be released to a victim’s friends, family, or colleagues.
Dating websites and applications do also boast another somewhat unique Internet blackmail scam, where after sexual images are sent, the blackmailer will reveal that they are in fact “under 18 years old.” They then threaten to distribute photographs, media, or other sensitive information to the police, unless a ransom is paid.
Once again, we strongly recommend against engaging in sexual acts on video or sending intimate photographs to complete strangers or new acquaintances.
Cyberstalking Protection Tip: Cyberstalking generally refers to the repeated act of stalking, intimidating, or harassing an adult on the Internet, while cyberbullying refers to the act of stalking a minor. Cyberstalking will generally include one of the following acts; defamation, libel, false accusations, and other threats. If you’ve been the victim of malicious and intimidating threats, messages, or attacks on the Internet, it’s important to take action as soon as possible.
How to Report Internet Blackmail: Should You Respond to It?
Before we get into how to report Internet blackmail, we’re going to tackle “how to respond to Internet blackmail,” as doing so is essential for giving yourself the best fighting chance possible to make it stop. Responding improperly or without tact could further complicate matters and make reporting Internet blackmail an even more stressful process than it already is.
How to Respond to Internet Blackmail
The simple answer is DON’T! Do not respond to an Internet blackmailer, harasser, sextortioner, or other malicious individuals. That’s exactly what they want you to do.
The very crux of Internet blackmail and online harassment involves a one-sided power dynamic. Once you respond to a perpetrator, that dynamic shifts even further in the harasser/blackmailer’s favor. While it might seem counterintuitive to cut all contact with a blackmailer, engaging with them usually only stands to make the situation worse.
Do not engage and do not pay their requested ransom (or perform the requested act), as there’s no actual guarantee the online blackmail, sextortion, or abuse will stop. Paying a ransom can further worsen the situation, as they will then know you’re willing to do anything. Requests for just money can then escalate into more sinister requests, such as sexual images or intimate videos.
You should be focusing on the most important task at hand, reporting it to the police and documenting all relevant communications, content, and evidence.
If you really believe an online blackmailer or extortioner is going to follow through with their threats to contact friends, family members, and colleagues (article: do sextortionists follow through?), it may be in your best interest to discuss the matter with the potential audience as soon as possible. While it might be extremely embarrassing and painful, it’s likely better for friends, family members, and colleagues to hear it from you first, instead of receiving a random message or image from a stranger (or reading about it online).
Below are several other recommendations when bombarded with internet blackmail threats and attacks:
- Make all social media profiles and online accounts private.
- Minimize the channels and mediums by which a blackmailer can contact you.
- Install anti-virus software and run a virus scan.
- Install a firewall.
Now, let’s turn to your most pressing question: how to report internet blackmail.
Step 1: Preserve All Blackmail, Communications, & Evidence
When reporting Internet blackmail and online harassment, it’s essential for victims to compile all relevant communications, threats, and evidence. Doing so will ultimately strengthen your internet blackmail claim. In today’s internet blackmail legal landscape, it’s important to arm yourself as best as you can, as state legislation is still relatively new and lacking in many ways.
Do not under any circumstances delete the threats and messages sent by the blackmailer, as this could ultimately lead to an uphill battle to prove an actual threat. Tangible evidence is a must when bringing a successful Internet blackmail claim.
Do not let your case hinge on your word versus a stranger’s.
Screenshotting and timestamping all communications is a great way to craft a comprehensive and chronological story of the attacks. You want to paint as clear a picture as possible when making a claim for Internet blackmail, as defense attorneys may harp on missing information and an incomplete timeline of the events.
Every single detail is important.
Step 2: Report Internet Blackmail to the Police
Since internet blackmail (and extortion) can sometimes be followed up with actual physical violence and threats, it’s important to file an in-person report at your local police station. Make sure to bring all your collected information and evidence with you.
Should the internet blackmail, sextortion, or online harassment involve organized crime or cross state lines, then you may need to contact the nearest FBI branch. Consulting an experienced Internet attorney can help you best determine the most appropriate agency to file a report with (see below).
Note that you can also report internet blackmail to all popular social media platforms and applications you have profiles with. For example, Facebook enables users to report blackmail, intimate images, and threats via a submission form.
Step 3: Contact an Experienced Internet Blackmail Attorney
Online blackmail, sextortion, and online harassment can be highly nuanced and difficult to navigate, as they are typically prosecuted under state-specific laws (some of which may be extremely broad and vague). If you’re a victim of web blackmail, we recommend contacting an experienced Internet attorney as soon as possible.
As noted above, an experienced Internet attorney can assist in contacting the relevant authorities (local police or FBI), compiling evidence, and identifying the malicious individual. Furthermore, experienced Internet attorneys can help secure content and post removals from websites and post de-indexing from search results.
At Minc Law, we know the ins and outs of internet harassment, extortion, and online harassment laws (along with U.S. defamation and libel laws), and have built up a comprehensive suite of legal tactics to quickly and effectively combat internet blackmail and web extortion.
Contact us today to schedule your free, initial no-obligation internet blackmail consultation by calling us at (216) 373-7706, or by scheduling a meeting online.
The online abuse and attacks stop NOW!
Online Reputation & Brand Management Tip: If you have a company or business with an online presence, it’s imperative you allot a specific amount of your budget towards an online reputation and brand monitoring budget. Doing so can be what makes or breaks your company. Establishing an online brand monitoring budget is a great way to gauge how the general public views your product or service, identify malicious or defamatory reviews, and spot intellectual property infringers as they appear.
Internet Blackmail Laws in the United States
In most U.S. states and jurisdictions, blackmail is a statutory offense, and often classified as a criminal offense – meaning, it carries punitive punishments for convicted blackmailers and perpetrators.
So, what is legally considered blackmail?
The offense of blackmail (including internet blackmail) is codified by 18 U.S.C. § 873, which reads:
“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 receive any money or other valuable thing, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”
The criminalization of blackmail has been met with considerable objection, with advocates noting the act of gossiping (by itself) and the act of requesting money (by itself) are both legal. They argue that “two rights should not make a wrong.” However, such arguments have been met with a practical rebuttal, which notes how the act of drinking alcohol (by itself) and driving (by itself) are both legal, but not when employed in combination.
While most states boast similar definitions of blackmail and Internet blackmail, a comprehensive legal framework codifying this act and offense is still severely lacking in the U.S. As a result, some states actually treat blackmail as a form of coercion or extortion, rather than its own distinct offense.
Let’s take a look at three specific state blackmail laws to gauge how this offense is viewed in today’s legal arena.
1. Internet Blackmail in California
Under California Penal Code Section 518, blackmail is prescribed under the blanket term of “extortion.” Section 518 reads:
“Extortion is the obtaining of property or other consideration from another, with his or her consent, or the obtaining of an official act of a public officer, induced by wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right.”
Section (b) of Penal Code Section 518 then further elaborates on what constitutes consideration, defining it as “anything of value, including sexual conduct…”
Blackmail (extortion, sextortion) is a felony in the state of California, meaning a perpetrator will face more than one year in prison and a fine up to USD $10,000. Depending on the nature of the act blackmailed and requested in California, blackmail may be considered a “wobbler offense,” meaning it may be tried as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
2. New York’s Coercion Statute
Blackmail and online blackmail are prescribed for in New York’s coercion statute, which reads:
“A person is guilty of coercion in the third degree when he or she compels or induces a person to engage in conduct which the latter has a legal right to abstain from engaging in, or to abstain from engaging in conduct in which he or she has a legal right to engage, or compels or induces a person to join a group, organization or criminal enterprise…by means of instilling in him or her a fear that, if the demand is not complied with, the actor or another will:
- Cause physical injury to a person; or
- Cause damage to property; or
- Engage in other conduct constituting a crime, or…
- Expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule…”
The last element noted, “expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact…” is the most relevant language to a blackmail action. New York’s blackmail statute is extremely similar to California’s extortion statute in the way that it combines several minor offenses under an “umbrella” statute and definition.
3. How Does Kansas Define Blackmail?
Instead of being grouped under “theft” offenses in Kansas, blackmail is considered a crime against the person. Unlike California and New York, Kansas specifically prescribes for the offense of blackmail, noting:
“Blackmail is intentionally gaining or attempting to gain anything of value or compelling or attempting to compel another to act against such person’s will…”
Kansas then further breaks down the offense of blackmail, distinguishing between threats to communicate false accusations about a person (level 7 felony) versus threats to disseminate videotapes, photographs, film, and other images of a person (level 4 felony). For example, a level 7 felony can result in a prison sentence ranging from 11 to 13 months (assuming no prior criminal record), and a fine not exceeding $100,000, while a level 4 person felony will generally result in 36+ months in prison.
Curious about state sextortion laws and protections in the U.S.? Check out our past article titled, “How to Deal With Sextortion on the Internet.”
Libel Removal Tip: If you’ve been defamed online, it’s important to understand the proper term for the defamation in question. Defamation takes two distinct forms; libel and slander. Libel refers to a written or published false assertion of fact which subsequently causes injury or damage to a person’s reputation, while slander refers to a spoken false assertion of fact. Both libel and slander often boast their own statutes of limitations, with most slander claims employing a 6 month to 1-year statute of limitations (SOL), and libel claims employing a 1 year (up to 3 years) SOL.
Work With Experienced Internet Attorneys to Stop Internet Blackmail!
Have you been the victim of internet blackmail, cyber extortion, or online harassment? Reach out to the nationally recognized attorneys of Minc Law today to help put an end to it! At Minc Law, we know what it takes to identify anonymous online trolls, cyberstalkers, and blackmailers, and hold them liable for their actions. And, we have the results to prove it.
In our storied tenure as Internet defamation removal attorneys, we’ve helped facilitate the removal of over 25,000 pieces of false and defamatory content/web pages, litigated in over 22 states and 3 countries, and boast a near 100% online defamation removal rate. Furthermore, we combine a unique suite of tools and skills to conduct comprehensive cyber investigations to identify malicious online cyberstalkers, harassers, extortionists, defamers, and blackmailers.
We’re here to fight for your online presence.
So, what can you expect when working with the Cleveland-based internet defamation attorneys of Minc Law?
- Utmost Respect & Courtesy: We understand just how invasive, stressful, and frightening internet blackmail, cyber extortion, and online harassment can be. Know that we’re here to further your best interests and make the identification and removal process as smooth as possible. After all, your goals are our goals.
- Open Dialogue and Communication: Some attorneys go missing once the defamation removal process has begun. Not us. We understand how important it is to be kept in the loop regarding your case and all important updates. At Minc Law, we pride ourselves on open dialogue and communication.
- Experienced & Proven Results: That’s right, websites and businesses respond to us. We’ve worked tirelessly with countless website administrators, online content managers, and third-party arbitration firms to both identify malicious online posters/trolls and remove illegal and libelous content. Rest assured, when working with the Ohio-based extortion lawyers of Minc Law, you’re in good hands.
Let’s get started now. Internet blackmail and online defamation are like wildfires. The longer you let it happen, the more damage it’s going to do to both your personal and professional life.
If you are being blackmailed with your nude photos and would like to learn more about your legal options, we recommend checking out our article on the topic, What to Do If Someone is Blackmailing You With Nude Photos.
“Minc Law and Dan Powell worked closely with us to get defamatory material removed from social media sites. We would not have been able to get this accomplished without them. They are true professionals, and have the resources and skills to guide clients through the process to a successful resolution.”
Jen Duncan, March 4, 2022