It can feel like it would never happen to you—until it does. Becoming the target of Instagram blackmail is stressful and horrifying, but the good news is that there are legal options available to you.
If you are being blackmailed on Instagram, we recommend following these steps:
- Remain calm,
- Stop engaging with the blackmailer and do not give in to their demands,
- Maximize the privacy restrictions on all of your social media profiles,
- Document evidence of all communications with the blackmailer,
- Report the blackmailer’s account, posts, or comments to Instagram for harassment, general abuse, scams, and other Terms of Service (ToS) violations,
- Reach out to local law enforcement, cybercrime agencies such as the Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3), and/or an experienced internet blackmail attorney, and
- Confide in someone you trust.
At Minc Law, we have helped hundreds of victims of internet blackmail and extortion end the harassment and get their lives back. From taking charge of communications with internet blackmailers, to removing unwanted and negative online content, to reporting crimes of extortion to the proper law enforcement agencies, we are here to help you.
Below, we explain what you need to know about Instagram blackmail, how to report it to the platform, and how best to respond to and protect yourself from this serious invasion of privacy.
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What Constitutes Instagram Blackmail?
When you hear the term ‘blackmail,” you may think of a person threatening to reveal a dirty secret about you unless you give them money. While that scenario is sometimes the case, the legal definition of blackmail is a bit more nuanced.
What is the Legal Definition of Blackmail?
Blackmail is the crime of threatening to disclose humiliating or harmful information about a person unless they give in to the perpetrator’s demands. Some blackmailers do not ask for money but attempt to gain additional power over their victims by demanding other concessions such as sexual favors or unlawful activity.
While state laws vary, blackmail is a federal crime—and according to 18 U.S.C. § 873, it is punishable by a fine of up to one year in prison.
It is important to understand that the crime of blackmail happens when the perpetrator makes the threat. They do not have to follow through on their threat or receive payment for their actions to constitute blackmail.
Video: Do Sextortionists Follow Through?
If you are being threatened by a blackmailer, they have already committed a crime, regardless of if you pay them.
What Are the Most Common Forms of Blackmail Found on Instagram?
Blackmail is extremely prevalent on internet forums like social media. The temptation to overshare, the ability to message other users privately, and the anonymity of perpetrators’ profiles all make Instagram a ripe breeding ground for various types of extortion.
Below, we tackle the most common types of blackmail that take place on Instagram: sextortion, revenge porn, sexual harassment, and cyberbullying.
The most common form of internet blackmail that we see at Minc Law is sextortion, which is the threat of sharing explicit media (texts, videos, pictures, etc.) unless the victim complies with the perpetrator’s demands. Sextortion is also referred to as:
Many sextortionists operate by creating fake Instagram accounts and lulling their victims into a false sense of security. They convince their victims to share nude photos or engage in explicit behavior via private message, and once the sextortionist obtains that sensitive material, they threaten to publish the content unless they receive payment in some form.
For further information about sexual extortion on Instagram, make sure to read our comprehensive guide explaining how to deal with Instagram sextortion.
Revenge porn, also known as non consensual pornography, is another form of blackmail in which the perpetrator threatens to publish sexually explicit content unless they receive money or other favors.
Revenge porn is often used interchangeably with sextortion, but they have slight differences. The perpetrators of revenge porn are usually former romantic partners who originally received the explicit content with the victim’s consent. And, sometimes the perpetrator does not even ask for any sort of money or favors at all – they choose to publish the images solely out of spite or revenge.
When the perpetrator is a stranger who lured their victim into sharing explicit content, that type of blackmail is usually referred to as sextortion.
Video: Help! My Nudes Are on the Internet – How Do I Remove Them?
Sexual Harassment & Cyberbullying
Finally, some malicious online actors photoshop pictures of their victim(s) and use Instagram to bully or sexually harass them. They then request a ransom to stop the harassment.
What is the Typical Profile of a Social Media Blackmailer?
The typical extortionist online is not who they claim to be. They generally appear extremely attractive because they use fake images and videos to prove their identity.
These images and videos are usually copied and pasted from other users’ profiles, stock photo sites, and pornography sites. One way to immediately spot a catfisher is to run their photos through a reverse image search on Google.
Once a social media blackmailer has created an account, they reach out to potential victims. They attempt to befriend you and use flattery to entice you to lower your guard. They eventually convince you to engage in flirtation and explicit activity, whether it be through sexting, sending nude images, or engaging in sexual activity over video chat.
Their goal is to record your explicit content, then use that material to blackmail you.
Here are a few red flags to watch out for when interacting with a stranger on Instagram or other social media sites:
- They are unwilling to send selfies in real-time—for instance, if you ask them to hold a specific object or send a time-stamped photo;
- They refuse to speak on the phone and prefer to keep the conversation text-based, potentially claiming that their microphone is broken;
- They refuse to meet with you in person;
- They ask you for money;
- They cannot keep their stories or facts straight; and
- Generally, they appear absurdly too good to be true.
How to Report Someone On Instagram For Blackmail
If you are being blackmailed on Instagram, it is essential to act quickly. In this section, we explain how to report a blackmailer to the platform.
How Do You Go About Preserving Evidence of Blackmail on Instagram?
First, save all relevant evidence and communications with the blackmailer. Take screenshots of your messages with them, any offensive material they sent you, and the user’s social media profile. You can take screenshots in the following ways:
- On an iPhone, press the lock and down-volume buttons at the same time (on older models, press the home and side buttons);
- On an Android, press the power and volume buttons at the same time (if this does not work, visit your phone manufacturer’s support site for help);
- On a Mac, press Shift+Command+3 to capture the entire screen (or Shift+CMD+4 to capture a selected portion of the screen); or
- On Windows, press Control+PrtScr to capture the entire screen.
In cases where there is a large amount of content you want to preserve, we recommend screen recording all of your communications with the perpetrator, posts, and content. This is especially helpful and recommended in cases where you subsequently delete or deactivate your account.
Alternatively, you can use more advanced, paid tools like Page Vault or Visualping to capture evidence.
Your first instinct may be to hide some of the more embarrassing evidence—but resist the urge to leave some messages out of your collection process. The more evidence you have, the stronger your case. Deleting valuable proof will make it that much harder for an attorney or law enforcement to take action.
Where Can You Report Instagram Blackmail?
The same factors that make social media a great place for socializing and human connection make it a fertile ground for harassment and bullying. Instagram and its parent company, Meta, recognize this dark side to the platform.
You can report accounts or content that were created with the sole intent of harassing another person, or for any of the following other violations:
- Hate speech or symbols,
- Nudity or sexual activity,
- Racist language or activity,
- Intellectual property violations,
- Selling illegal or regulated goods, and
- Suicide or self-harm.
Report the Content for Harassment
You can report a profile or post that is harassing or bullying another user, whether you have an Instagram account or not.
To report the post, navigate to the post in question and click or tap the three dots at the upper right corner of the post. In the menu that appears, choose “Report.”
Next, follow the on-screen instructions to select the reason for reporting the post and add any additional information.
To report a comment on a post, click or tap on the speech bubble icon below the post to open the comments section. Select the comment by:
- Swiping left over it (iPhone),
- Tapping it (Android), or
- Clicking the three dots below the comment (desktop or mobile browser).
Tap the exclamation point (on mobile) or click “Report” (on desktop).
Click or tap “Report this comment.” This is also the menu where you can block the commenter if you choose.
Choose the most appropriate reason why the comment is abusive, then follow the on-screen instructions to add more information.
Keep in mind that after reporting a comment, you will no longer be able to see it—but that does not mean Instagram removed the comment completely.
Report the Instagram Account For General Abuse & Scams
Instagram scams happen when users create fake accounts or hack into existing Instagram accounts to pretend to be someone you know. The scammers then use catfishing tactics to trick you into giving them compromising private information or money.
Scammers generally engage in the following behavior:
- Asking you for money or gift cards,
- Claiming to represent large companies or public figures and ask you to pay a fee to apply for a job,
- Claiming to be from Instagram security and ask you to give them account information,
- Asking you to move the conversation away from Instagram to another more private app,
- Asking you to click on a suspicious link,
- Using copious spelling and grammar mistakes, and
- Asking you to claim a prize or offer goods at an absurd discount.
If you suspect an Instagram user created an account solely to scam you or others, you can report the account by navigating to the blackmailer’s profile. Click or tap the three dots at the top right of their profile page. In the menu that appears, choose “Report.”
Next, click or tap “Report Account” and follow the on-screen instructions to fill in the requested information about why you are reporting the profile.
File a Complaint With the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
Beyond reporting the blackmail to Instagram, it is also a good idea to make a report with the FBI. The agency has an Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) that is dedicated to tracking suspected online criminal activity.
When the IC3 receives a complaint, they analyze the information and forward the case to the relevant federal, state, and/or local authorities. They may even send the information to international law enforcement agencies if appropriate.
For further resources on reporting internet blackmail, sextortion, and extortion, make sure to read our comprehensive guide explaining how to report sextortion.
What Happens When You Report Blackmail on Instagram?
Many victims worry that reporting an abusive account will only lead to retaliation from the perpetrator. But Instagram’s reporting process is completely anonymous (unless you are making a copyright infringement claim), so you can make your report without fear that your harasser will know what you did. You do have the ability to check your report’s status privately from your mobile app.
To check the status of your report, navigate to your profile and tap the three bars at the upper corner of the page. Tap “Settings.”
Tap “Support Requests,” then “Reports” to see your pending requests.
After you have made a report to Instagram, the review team considers whether the post or profile has violated Instagram’s Community Guidelines. If the review team finds that the rules have been violated, they may take down the post or profile.
However, one caveat is that if you are being blackmailed or catfished from a fake account, reporting the account to Instagram for impersonation may not be your best option. Instagram’s review team only responds to reports from the person who is being impersonated.
Keep in mind that it is completely within Instagram’s discretion whether they will remove any content or restrict a user’s profile. Making a report does not guarantee the harmful content will be taken down.
Some accounts with reports against them are banned immediately, while others can receive several reports without being banned. Working with an experienced online defamation lawyer may improve your chances of having a harasser banned for unlawful activity.
Steps to Take If You Are Being Blackmailed on Instagram
If you receive threatening messages from a blackmailer on Instagram, it is important to act quickly and with a clear head. Below, we outline how to deal with blackmail on Instagram as painlessly as possible:
Although it can be difficult when you are being attacked and threatened online, it is essential to stay calm. The scammer is counting on you to panic and give in to their demands out of fear.
Do Not Give in to the Blackmailer’s Demands
It may feel as if you have no other choice, but you should not pay the ransom or meet their demands. Cut off all communication with them immediately.
Giving the blackmailer what they want will not make them delete the compromising information they have about you. Instead, giving in shows that you can be controlled, which means they will just keep asking for more money or favors until you finally stand up to them.
Maximize Privacy Restrictions on All Social Media Accounts
If you are being harassed on Instagram, set all of your social media accounts to private immediately. Restricting the number of people who have access to information about you—not to mention multiple ways to contact you—limits the harm your blackmailer can do.
Preserve All Communications With the Perpetrator
Save every interaction you have had with the blackmailer across every social media platform and device. The best method is to take screenshots of things like:
- Comments and posts,
- Private messages,
- The perpetrator’s Instagram profile,
- Images or files they have sent you, and
- Any other information about them (user handles, email addresses, screen names, etc.) that you can access.
Consult With Law Enforcement or an Experienced Internet Blackmail Attorney
We typically recommend that you block a user who is attempting to blackmail or extort you—but before you do, reach out to an experienced online extortion attorney or law enforcement. The appropriate authorities can give you guidance on how best to respond to an extortionist.
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Talk to Someone You Can Trust
Even if you do not have the resources to hire an attorney, you should reach out to someone you trust for support. There are plenty of resources available that give support and advice to victims of blackmail and online extortion, such as:
- Thorn, a helpline and resource page for children and teenage victims of sextortion;
- FBI Scams and Safety, a page with answers to common questions about sextortion; and
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which provides a tip line and resources for sextortion victims.
How to Protect Yourself From Blackmail on Instagram
While you can take steps to mitigate the damage once you have been blackmailed, the best strategy is to avoid putting yourself in that situation in the first place. This section covers a few tips for insulating yourself as much as possible against scammers and blackmailers online.
What Can You Personally Do to Lower Your Chances Of Being Blackmailed On Instagram?
Social media is a breeding ground for blackmail and extortion for a reason. By its nature, it tempts users to be unguarded with their information while providing anonymity to scammers.
If you are concerned about the growing threat of internet blackmail, you can take the following steps to protect yourself.
Avoid Random Friend Requests on Social Media
Perhaps most obviously, do not be too quick to accept friend requests from strangers. It may seem harmless to accept a follow request from someone you do not immediately recognize—especially if you are interested in increasing your social media presence.
But allowing a stranger to follow you on Instagram enables scammers and catfishers to send you private messages. They can also see your posts, which can contain valuable information like your interests, friends, location, and any other personal information you share.
Maximize Your Social Media Security Settings
As mentioned above, having your social media profiles set to public makes you more vulnerable to harassment and abuse online. Scammers can learn much more about you than you would expect just from accessing your social profiles.
Most social media platforms allow you to customize your profile’s privacy. Instagram, for instance, lets you choose between a public and a private account. Public accounts can be seen by anyone, while private accounts can only be seen by the followers you approve.
Beyond these settings, Instagram also allows you to:
- Limit comments from certain users or groups,
- Allow @ mentions from only people you follow,
- Decide who can see your Stories and Instagram Live videos,
- Show when you were last active on Instagram, and
- Decide who can send you a private message.
To access your privacy settings, navigate to your profile. Tap the three bars at the top of your page, then tap “Settings.”
Tap “Privacy” to review and adjust your privacy options.
Look Out For Red Flags That Someone is Not Who They Claim to Be
Many scammers and catfishers use the same techniques or display similar red flags when they attempt to reach out to new victims. Learning how to spot the signs of a fake persona can help keep you safe when interacting with new friends online.
Such red flags include:
- A profile with very few friends or interactions with others,
- Unwillingness to show their face or get on a voice call with you,
- Overly dramatic stories to explain why they cannot get on a voice or video chat with you,
- Requests for money (often with outlandish reasons why they need your financial assistance), and
- Moving the conversation quickly into flirtatiousness and sexual language.
Do Not Disclose Personal Information Too Quickly
Remember that a blackmailer’s goal is to uncover personal information that they can use against their victim. Protect your personal information by setting all of your social accounts to private, and make a habit of not casually sharing information on your social posts.
Double-check your posts to make sure they do not contain identifying information of:
- Your current location,
- Your address and phone number, and
- Your ID, credit cards, or financial information.
And if you are engaged in an interaction with an Instagram user that you do not know very well, be careful how much you reveal about your personal life.
Block Your Webcam
Webcam hacking is not just a paranoid myth. In fact, one white hat activist recently discovered over 15,000 breached webcams that were made accessible to the general public. Many webcams are easily remote-accessed by third parties if their owners do not take additional security measures.
One of the simplest ways to protect yourself against webcam hackers is to place a physical cover over your webcam. You can simply place a sticker over the lens, or if you use your webcam often, you may want to purchase a slidable webcam cover so that you can choose when your webcam is functional.
Avoid Invitations to Move the Conversation to Different Platforms, Apps, or Devices
It is understandably exciting to receive new follow requests on Instagram. The ability to connect with a wider community is one reason why social media is so popular.
But do not let your natural excitement cloud your judgment. If your new connection quickly invites you to move to another platform like FaceTime or WhatsApp, that could be a sign that they plan to record you for sextortion or blackmail purposes.
Do Not Share Explicit Content
The dangers of sexting can be very severe in today’s digital age. It is a good rule of thumb to assume that any sexually explicit images, messages, or videos you send over the internet can be used against you in the future.
Even if the person on the other end of the conversation is who you think they are—like a romantic partner or date—they may not want to keep that content private forever. Many revenge porn perpetrators were once trusted romantic partners, but after falling out, they retaliated against their victim by sharing that private content with others.
The best way to keep explicit content from being published without your consent is to avoid sharing it in the first place.
Do Blackmailers on Instagram Follow Through on Their Threats?
If you are being blackmailed on Instagram, it is easy to assume that your reputation will be ruined if you do not give in to the perpetrator’s demands. But you may be surprised to learn that the vast majority of blackmailers on Instagram never follow through on their threats.
It makes sense if you think about it: releasing that embarrassing or harmful information about you means giving up the one piece of leverage they have over you. If they truly want your money, they have nothing to gain from following through on their threats too quickly.
It is true that some blackmailers intend to see their threats through to the end, whether it be out of vindictiveness or maliciousness. But most blackmailers know that doing so would only draw the attention of law enforcement—and for most perpetrators, if they will not be paid for their trouble, it is not worth the risk.
How Can a Legal Team Help You Address Your Instagram Blackmail?
Becoming the victim of blackmail on Instagram can make you feel scared, helpless, and with nowhere to turn—but you do not have to deal with your situation alone. An experienced attorney can give you seasoned advice about your situation and help devise the best strategy for dealing with the blackmailer.
What Should You Look For in a Legal Team When Dealing With Instagram Blackmail?
The right legal team to help you with your blackmail case will be one that is experienced in your specific situation. Look for the following elements to narrow down your search:
- Proven experience combating blackmail and extortion on social media and dating platforms;
- Transparency—for example, a registered address, a profile on Google Maps, and licenses/other information on their website confirming their legitimacy as a law firm;
- Testimonials backing up their success and experience in their area of law; and
- Resources on their website informing readers of how to address blackmailers effectively.
It is also a good idea to check legal databases and bar association websites to make sure the attorney has not had any accusations of ethical violations in the past.
For more help choosing the right attorney for you, see our list of 33 questions to ask when hiring an internet defamation lawyer.
How Can Minc Law Help Victims of Instagram Blackmail?
If you are being blackmailed on Instagram, you need to move quickly. Blackmail is a crime and a violation of your privacy, and an experienced legal professional can provide objective advice, communicate with the blackmailer on your behalf, and help you stop the abuse with minimal repercussions in your life.
Often, blackmailers who see that you have a capable team behind you will realize that they need to move on because you are no longer a profitable target.
If you are dealing with a blackmailer or extortionist, we at Minc Law are here to help you. Our legal team represents dozens of internet extortion victims every year, and we have seen internet harassment in all of its forms. We can act quickly to suspend the perpetrator’s account and have any sensitive content about you taken down.
“Michele Simonelli recently helped me with an sextortion case. Due to the escalating nature of the situation, she promptly moved a previously scheduled meeting forward, and took immediate action to help mitigate the threat. As anyone facing these type situations knows, it’s extraordinarily agonizing, and one cannot even think logically. Michele was reassuring, and extremely responsive to my texts and phone calls, and also appeared non-judgemental. There’s no way to know the outcome had I not used her services, however, the backing of her and the firm gave me enough confidence/hope to get through the situation, with what appears to be a successful outcome. Thank you Michele for your professionalism, responsiveness and kindness! I highly recommend this firm and particularly Michele.”
August 18, 2022
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.