In this all-encompassing blog post and guide, we’re going to walk you through with how to deal with sextortion on the Internet, how sextortion differs from traditional online extortion and Internet harassment, what to do if you’ve been sextorted on Facebook Messenger, several popular sextortion scams, and more!
- To deal with sextortion on the Internet, we recommend the following:
- Acquaint yourself with the definition of sextortion and web blackmail,
- Document all communications and evidence,
- Secure all of your online accounts and social media profiles,
- Cut all contact with the perpetrator,
- Do not pay any ransom,
- Contact the social media website or platform where you’ve been harassed and sextorted on.
Online Defamation Removal Tip: When combating online defamation, sextortion, and online harassment, it’s extremely important that you preserve all relevant evidence. We recommend screenshotting the offensive material, messages, and attacks, as this will ultimately help strengthen your claim. In order to further strengthen your claim, we recommend having a trusted friend, colleague, or family member assist in the documentation/evidence collection process, as this will help refute any claims by an opposing party that you’ve fabricated or tampered with evidence.
Have you been the victim of sextortion, revenge porn, or other online harassment and want it to stop? Reach out to the experienced Internet attorneys of Minc Law today to discuss your legal options.
At Minc Law, we provide a full range of legal services to help individuals and businesses of all walks of life help take back their online reputation, image, and presence. Additionally, we help protect individuals from anonymous cyber-attacks, blackmail, and sextortion. During our tenure as nationally recognized Internet attorneys, we’ve secured the effective removal of over 25,000 malicious/false websites and pieces of content, litigated in over 22 states and 3 countries, and boast a nearly 100% online defamation takedown rate.
We draw on specialized legal and technical expertise to provide cost-effective and unique solutions to defamation, online harassment, sextortion, revenge porn, and much more.
What are you waiting for? The online abuse and attacks stops now.
What is Sextortion? What Constitutes Sextortion?
Simply put, sextortion refers to a specific type of sexual exploitation whereby a party employs non-physical methods of coercion to extort sexual acts, money, or other goods from an innocent party. According to an interview with an FBI cyber-crimes agent and video transcript, sextortion occurs “when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material” if you fail to provide them with images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money. At its very core, sextortion is made up over two primary elements:
- Abuse of Power: a relationship which creates a one-sided power dynamic,
- Sexual Exploitation: an accompanying threat to release private, personal, or other sensitive materials (ex. Sexual images) in exchange for something.
Due to the rise of social media use and other online networking platforms, sextortion now most commonly manifests itself in online form and has become a growing concern across the globe, as it stands to affect almost anyone (females, males, adults, teenagers). The National Center for Missing and Exploited Childrenreported a 150% increase in sextortion complaints and reports to their tipline from 2014 to 2016, while the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received 13,000 more sextortion reports than its previous month in July 2018 alone. This is a growing trend – one that needs to be monitored and dealt with carefully.
It has even been employed by government workers, law enforcement agents, and employers to extort sexual acts and images from a person in exchange for a good, service, or act which can be awarded or withheld.
Sextortion can also refer to a form of blackmail where personal information (including sexual information) and sexual images are used to extort an innocent person into performing sexual favors. For example, sextortion on the Internet will generally occur after a malicious online party (sextortionist) has gained control of personal information, sexually explicit photographs, or other published video of a victim. Subsequently, the malicious party then contacts the victim in order to “sextort” them into either paying a ransom/money or performing sexual acts.
Sextortion may also commonly be referred to as:
- Webcam blackmail,
- Web sextortion,
- Online sextortion,
- Cyber harassment,
- Online harassment, or
Webcam blackmail and sextortion both stand to substantially alter an individual’s life and livelihood, having resulted in not only humiliation and extreme embarrassment, but suicide and other self harm as well.
Sextortion Fact: The first use of the term sextortion arose in the early 1950s in the state of California. Since then, it has become an extremely popular crime and means of online harassment due to advances in technology and social media platforms. Sextortion has been prosecuted under countless criminal statutes in the U.S., including: extortion, sexual coercion, child pornography, sexual exploitation, computer hacking, bribery, and more.
How to Deal with Sextortion on the Internet
Online sextortion, web blackmail, and other malicious Internet crimes can be life-changing, leaving you fearing for not only your professional and personal reputation, but your safety as well. And, with sextortion accounting for nearly 1 in 10 spear-phishing emails, and an estimated 45% of all perpetrators carrying out their respective threats (according to a University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Center report), it’s extremely important to stay proactive about your online presence and actions.
In this section, we’re going to walk you through five ways to deal with sextortion on the Internet. And, while you may feel uneasy confronting malicious Internet sextortion and webcam blackmail, it’s important to stick to your formulated game-plan and stay calm.
1. Document All Communications & Evidence!
While it might be daunting and stressful to have to go back over malicious communications and sensitive images threatened by a perpetrator, it’s extremely important to document and preserve all communications and evidence. Oftentimes, it’s a victim’s first response and natural instinct to delete all communications and material sent by a perpetrator, however, this only stands to make one’s case harder to prove. Tangible evidence is essential for bringing a successful claim of sextortion.
Think about it. Without evidence, your case solely rests upon your word versus a stranger’s. It’s imperative that you do everything in your power to give your case the best chance to succeed. To further strengthen your case for webcam blackmail and sextortion, we recommend having a trusted family member or friend assist in the documentation process. Doing so will ultimately help refute any claims by a sextortionist or online blackmailer that you have materially altered or tampered with the evidence.
Finally, telling a detailed chronological story is important, so make sure to screenshot the specific times and dates that such communications and materials took place. The more details, the better. Small details ultimately help shape a case.
2. Secure All Online Accounts & Social Media Profiles
According to the above mentioned University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Center Report and Survey, contact between perpetrators and their victims took place primarily on social media (54%), with 41% taking place on messaging apps. Securing all online profiles and accounts is crucial for helping prevent sextortion to begin with.
Set your profiles and accounts to private, and refrain from accepting friend requests (and subsequently engaging) with persons you don’t know. Beware of profiles that have minimal posts and pictures, and are not in your immediate network of friends and family.
Should you already have engaged with a sextortionist or online blackmailer, blocking them on social media is a recommended option, as it can help prevent them from gaining further access to a list of your friends and family members.
Should things get so out of hand that a perpetrator is creating multiple accounts to harass you online, deleting your social media profile and presence altogether is recommended until legal action is taken.
3. Cut All Contact With the Perpetrator & Don’t Pay
It might seem counterintuitive to completely ignore a malicious online perpetrator, stalker, or sextortionist, however, engaging with them further only stands to worsen the matter at hand. Think back to Section 1, where we broke down the two core components of sextortion; power and threats. Cutting all contact with the perpetrator helps remove the power dynamic at play. After all, they’ve engaged with you with the intent of getting a rise out of you.
Additionally, do not pay any ransom asked for by them, as there is no guarantee the online abuse and Internet sextortion will cease. Stop responding altogether. Without open lines of communication, their ability to further torment you becomes minimal. Paying a ransom sometimes can add fuel to the fire, letting the perpetrator know that you will honor all demands. This can often lead to the situation escalating – where a request for sexual images might then turn into actual sexual favors.
Instead, seek legal assistance immediately. Do not negotiate and do not give-in to their demands. As a victim of sextortion and webcam blackmail, you have more power than you think, so make sure to keep the playing field level.
4. Contact the Relevant Social Media Website
However, most social media websites are bombarded with content removal requests and reports, so it can sometimes take days or weeks for a proper response. On top of that, social media websites and platforms are classified as user-generated content platforms, a title which carries heightened immunity in the world of online defamation and malicious attacks. Simply put, most user-generated content websites are under no obligation to remove certain types of content, unless it’s illegal or provided for legally under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).
We recommend following our next step (consulting with an experienced Internet attorney) when approaching malicious attacks, defamation, and sextortion on the Internet and social media websites, should contacting them through traditional channels not yield any results.
5. Reach Out to an Experienced Internet Attorney
Web sextortion and online blackmail can be highly nuanced and complex areas of law, as they are often prosecuted under state specific statutes (which aren’t often specifically drafted to explicitly include sextortion). If you’re a victim of sextortion and web blackmail, we recommend reaching out to an experienced Internet attorney. Doing so will not only save you time, but future headache and hassle.
Not only can experienced Internet lawyers help identify online perpetrators and malicious trolls, but they can also help remove illegal and defamatory content/profiles, secure its de-indexing from Google search results, compel workplace and administrative action, work with relevant law enforcement agencies and authorities, and hold such malicious individuals liable for their attacks.
Experienced Internet attorneys have built up a wide array of cost-effective and savvy legal tactics over the years to quickly and efficiently combat web sextortion and online blackmail. At Minc Law, we boast proven success identifying malicious online perpetrators and trolls, and a nearly 100% online defamation takedown rate. Furthermore, in our tenure as experienced Internet attorneys, we’ve helped remove over 25,000 websites and offensive pieces of content/media from the Internet, and litigated in over 22 states and 3 countries.
Our results speak for themselves. Curious about how the Cleveland-based Internet attorneys of Minc lawcan help you combat and deal with sextortion and other online harassment? Reach out to 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.
U.S. Sextortion Fact: Unfortunately, the U.S. does not have comprehensive legislation for sextortion and several other malicious Internet crimes codified in its books. Oftentimes, sextortion crimes are tried under various criminal statutes (as mentioned above) due to the lack of overall legislation. Several popular sextortion cases in the U.S. have resulted in the imprisonment of anywhere from 1.5 years to 20-plus years for perpetrators.
Additionally, the FBI recommends several tips for preventing online sextortion and webcam blackmail:
- Do not under any circumstances send compromising images of yourself to anyone – no matter how close you are to them,
- Refrain from opening attachments from persons you don’t know,
- Turn off all electronics and web cameras when you’re not actually using them.
- Do contact the FBI if you believe you’re a victim of sextortion.
Three Popular Sextortion Scams To Look Out For
Sometimes it can be tricky spotting a sextortion scam before it happens. In this section, we’re going to walk you through three of the most popular sextortion scams you should look out for on the Internet.
Keep in mind that sextortion can take many forms, and isn’t always so obvious at first, so make sure to approach websites and online strangers with caution.
Sextortion Bitcoin Scam
The rise of cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin, and blockchain over the past two years has resulted in some of the most highly sophisticated and tech savvy sextortion schemes the Internet has ever seen. One common online sextortion scam, which has been on the rise since mid-2018, involves a well-known “breach dump” and threatening email sent by a perpetrator, informing you of unsavory, intimate, and personal information/media that they have acquired.
In exchange for keeping the information and media quiet, they demand payment in the biggest cryptocurrency in the market today – Bitcoin.
Simply put, the sextortionist or scammer in question digs up old personally identifiable information which was the subject of a large-scale data breach or hack (such as one’s email address and passwords). They then enter the information into a pre-prepared script and send it off to thousands of persons. In the text of the email, the extortionist, sextortionist, or scammer attempts to leverage the information they have to convince a reader that they have gained access to their PC, webcam, personal files, or browsing history.
Victims are then presented with a time-limit to deliver payment in order to prevent the mass dissemination of such personally identifiable and unsavory information/media. The payment method? Bitcoin.
The demand that a victim pay in cryptocurrency should raise a red-flag from the beginning, as there is a high chance the perpetrator is simply playing a “number game.”
Understand that the threats and personal information “obtained” by the hacker is an empty threat, so it’s best left ignoring this. This is a sextortion/extortion scam which preys upon numbers, hoping just a single person is gullible enough to believe that their computer has been breached. Simply delete the email, change your password if you feel uncomfortable, and in no circumstances pay the reward at all.
If you’re curious as to whether your data has been acquired through a past data-breach, we recommend heading on over to haveibeenpwned.com and entering your email address.
Facebook Messenger & Skype Sextortion Scam
As Facebook is the largest social media platform and website in the world, it’s no surprise that sextortion scams and schemes are rampant on there. Additionally, since Facebook (and Skype) both enable users to chat via webcam and send photographs, it opens up an all-in-one platform for sextortionists, cyberstalkers, and online harassers seeking to “catch” a victim.
There’s some tell-tale signs to keep an eye out for when using Facebook and Skype.
- Friend request from an unknown person (generally they are highly attractive),
- Bare profile with very few friends, posts, or photographs (often stolen),
- Quick to initiate contact and subsequently a video call,
- Completely unrelated to your circle of friends or family members.
As Skype does not support fleshed out profiles, a wall to post on, and other personal details, most perpetrators jump straight into a video call. Once a perpetrator and sextortionist has initiated a video chat, they often use pre-recorded videos of an attractive male or female to “trick” victims into engaging in sexual acts or compromising positions.
Once the call is finished, sextortionists then request a ransom, and threaten to release the compromising photographs or videos to the victim’s personal contacts and family members.
If you’ve been friended on Facebook or Skype by a person outside of your contacts, we highly recommend “reverse image searching” the profile photograph of the unknown party. Doing so is an effective way to find other websites, profiles, and platforms which have used the photograph.
If you’ve been the victim of sextortion on Skype or Facebook Messenger and want to put an end to the online attacks, abuse, and sextortion, contact the nationally recognized Internet attorneys of Minc Law today! To schedule your free, initial no-obligation consultation, please call us at (216) 373-7706 or fill out our contact form online.
OkCupid & Dating Website Sextortion
While online dating websites are not the primary platform utilized by online extortionists, sextortionists, and Internet harassers to seek out ransoms or revenge, they still should be approached with caution. Persons using online dating platforms might be more vulnerable than average social media users due to a past break-up or desire to find a partner for life.
Several of the most common websites used by online harassers and sextortionists include:
- Plenty of Fish,
- Tinder, and
While Grindr and Tinder are both dating applications for your phone, there’s generally a natural progression, where a user is catfished into chatting with a profile on the app and then having the conversation moved to a different medium (ex. SMS or Facebook Messenger).
The OkCupid sextortion scam takes a similar shape to Facebook Messenger, whereby an attractive and fake dating profile messages a victim, and solicits intimate photographs or other information from them. Once they’ve obtained the information, they then locate the victim’s personal social media profiles, and threaten to release said images and information to friends and loved ones – unless strict demands are met. It’s also common for dating website sextortion to involve a victim removing clothing or sending intimate photographs to a website/application user, and then subsequently finding out that the perpetrator is “under 18.”
The perpetrator then threatens to send the sexual photographs, texts, or videos to the FBI, unless a ransom is paid.
If you’d like to read up further on common dating website sextortion scams and schemes, check out this 2016 NYTimes article which details the recent surge in webcam blackmail and fraudulent dating profiles.
Libel & Online Defamation Removal Tip: When combating online defamation, libel, and other malicious Internet attacks, it’s important to preserve all relevant evidence. Additionally, we recommend acquainting yourself with your state’s respective statute of limitations for the matter – the amount of time you have to initiate a lawsuit and bring your claim. Should you fail to bring your claim within the prescribed time-frame, you could ultimately risk having your case thrown out completely.
State Sextortion Laws & Protections
With today’s prevalence of sextortion on the Internet and other online platforms and applications, you’re probably wondering whether sextortion is a crime in the United States. Simply put, sextortion is a crime in the U.S., however, there’s a lack of comprehensive and narrowly tailored legislation governing the crime of sextortion and web blackmail.
As online sextortion and web blackmail is not provided for at a federal level, persons who commit online sextortion are often prosecuted under state criminal statutes which only partially relate to the crime itself. Most commonly, individuals guilty of sextortion in the United States are prosecuted under the following criminal statutes:
- Sexual exploitation,
- Child pornography,
- Wiretapping and hacking, and
- Sexual assault.
Now, let’s turn to three states and their respective laws and approach towards holding online sextortionists liable for online blackmail and sextortion.
Sextortion Laws in California
Under California law, sextortion is classified as a form of blackmail under California’s extortion statute. Specifically, California Penal Code 518 reads:
“(a) 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 a wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right…”
Section (b) goes on to further elaborate on the definition of “consideration,” which is defined as “anything of value, including sexual conduct…”
Under California Penal Code 518, sextortion is a felony, meaning it exceeds imprisonment of more than one year. Additionally, it levies a fine of up to USD $10,000. It’s worth noting that “attempted sextortion” in the state of California is classified as a “wobbler” offense, meaning it can be tried either as a felony or misdemeanor – it’s subject to the prosecutor’s discretion.
Finally, Penal Code 518 fails to account for minors and persons under the age of 18 who are victims of sextortion and the exploitation of intimate and sexual images, leaving the statute ripe for overhaul and improvement.
Curious about reading up on defamation in the state of California? Check out our comprehensive guide to California defamation law here.
Utah Sextortion Laws
In 2017, Utah became the first state in the United States to enact specific legislation expressly criminalizing “sextortion” and “cyber-sexual extortion.” This first of a kind bill defined both the crimes of sexual extortion and aggravated sexual extortion, and outlined criminal penalties for both.
“An individual who is 18 years old or older commits the offense of sexual extortion if the individual:
- With an intent to coerce a victim to engage in sexual condact, in sexually explicit conduct, or in simulated sexually explicit conduct, or to produce, provide, or distribute an image, video, or other recording of an individual naked or engaged in sexually explicit conduct, communicates in person or by electronic means a threat:
- To the victim’s person, property, or reputation; or
- To distribute an intimate image or video of the victim; or
- Knowingly causes a victim to engage in sexual contact, in sexually explicit conduct, or in simulated sexually explicit conduct, or to produce, provide, or distribute any image, video, or other recording of any individual naked or engaged in sexually explicit conduct by means of a threat….”
Section 76-5-111 accounts for both the sexual coercion to engage in sexual acts and contact, and distribute sexually explicit and intimate images, a first for sexual extortion legislation in the U.S. And, while Utah (and Arkansas), along with 31 other states, already had sexting legislation codified in their books (including punishments for revenge porn), it did not properly address the commission of online sexual violence.
Curious to read about online defamation and libel in Utah? Check out our past guide to Utah defamation by heading over to our one-of-a-kind U.S. defamation and libel laws mega-page.
Arkansas Sextortion Laws
Not long after the passage of Utah’s sextortion specific statute, Arkansas followed, passing an amendment to Arkansas Code Title 5, Chapter 14, Subchapter 1 to include specific definitions for sexual offenses and the explicit criminalization of “sexual extortion.” Specifically, it reads:
“A person who commits the offense of sexual extortion if:
- With the purpose to coerce another person to engage in sexual contact or sexually explicit conduct, the person communicates a threat to:
- Damage the property or harm the reputation of the other person; or
- Produce or distribute a recording of the other person engaged in sexually explicit conduct or depicted in a state of nudity…”
The statute goes on to outline specific professions persons will be disqualified from for engaging in sexual extortion (ex. Teacher at an elementary or secondary educational entity, psychologist, nurse, etc…), and adds sexual extortion to one of the listed crimes for persons required to register as sex offenders.
Under Arkansas law, sexual extortion is a class B felony, which carries a sentence of anywhere from five to twenty years in prison, and a fine up to $15,000.
Online Reputation & Brand Management Tip: If you’re an online business, company, or service and want to protect against malicious online attacks, libelous and negative reviews, and unsavory comments, we recommend establishing an online reputation and brand management budget. Doing so is an effective way to combat online defamers and malicious trolls, and identify intellectual property infringers.
Have you been the victim of cyberstalking or other online harassment? Check out our comprehensive article and blog post detailing 5 steps to protection against cyberstalking.
Work With an Experienced Internet Attorney to Prevent Sextortion Today!
Sextortion can affect persons from all walks of life. And, in today’s day and age, with the rise of technological advances, social media platforms, and Internet chat rooms, an astonishingly high percentage of both teenagers and adults have been the victim of sextortion or some other form of online harassment and stalking.
If you’re looking to put an end to online sextortion and malicious attacks (or remove nonconsensual pornography from the Internet), contact the experienced Internet attorneys of Minc Law today.
At Minc Law, we know how to leverage the full weight of the law and investigative tools to stop online harassers, stalkers, bullies, and extortionists. In our tenure as nationally recognize Internet attorneys, we’ve developed a comprehensive legal approach and assembled an effective arsenal of tactics to remove embarrassing, illegal, and intimidating content. Furthermore, we know how to hold offenders liable for their actions.
Let’s put an end to the malicious online attacks and sextortion today!
Curious as to what you can expect when working with the Cleveland-based attorneys of Minc Law?
- Utmost Respect & Courtesy: At Minc Law, we understand just how invasive, stressful, and overwhelming online sextortion, online harassment, and cyberstalking can be, so always know that we’re here to make everything as painless as possible. We treat all our clients with the utmost respect and courtesy. After all, your goals are our goals.
- Open Lines of Communication: Some Internet attorneys will go missing once they’ve taken your case and begun the identification or removal process. Not us. We understand how important it is to be kept in the loop about all important updates concerning your case. At Minc Law, we pride ourselves on open lines of communication and dialogue with all of our clients.
- Websites, Businesses, & Individuals Respond to Us: As we noted above, we’ve honed our craft over the years, and have successfully removed over 25,000 libelous and malicious websites/pieces of content from the Internet, litigated in over 22 states and 3 countries, and boast a nearly 100% online defamation takedown rate. Websites, businesses, and individuals respond to Minc Law, so know that you’re in good hands.