Perhaps you met a new, attractive acquaintance on a social media app or dating site. Everything went well; you even exchanged a few nude selfies. But now, they are suddenly threatening to share those images with your friends and family unless you pay them. If this sounds familiar, you are a victim of sextortion—and you may be wondering what to do next.
If you have been threatened by a sextortion scammer, follow these tips to deal with sextortion effectively:
- Stay calm and do not panic,
- Stop engaging with the sextortionist,
- Preserve evidence of the sextortion immediately,
- Adjust your privacy settings on all online accounts,
- Avoid “getting ahead of the story,”
- Be there for your child (if you are the parent of a sextortion victim),
- Report the sextortion to law enforcement and cybercrime agencies,
- Report the sextortion to the platform where it occurred, and
- Reach out to a sextortion attorney.
At Minc Law, our experienced sextortion attorneys can take over communications with the perpetrator, remove damaging content from the internet, and work with law enforcement to hold the sextortionist accountable. We can also provide objective advice on how to best respond to a sextortion attempt.
In this in-depth guide, we provide actionable tips on how to identify online extortion, protect yourself against sextortion attempts, and what to do if you have already been sextorted.
What is Sextortion?
The word “sextortion” is a combination of “sex” and “extortion.” As that origin suggests, Sextortion is a form of extortion that uses threats of revealing sexual material unless the victim pays a ransom. That material might be images, videos, or information—and common ransom demands range from money to more explicit content or sexual favors.
What is a Sextortionist?
A sextortionist is someone who threatens to share explicit material of another unless they receive money, sexual favors, or more explicit images.
They case a wide net and target numerous victims, sending templated messages to sometimes hundreds/thousands of online profiles, phone numbers, and email addresses per day – all in the hopes that a few will respond. Typically, sextortionists have no physical or geographical connection to their victims, and the victims are unaware of their true identities.
How Common is Sextortion?
Sextortion is increasingly common and on the rise worldwide – affecting tens of thousands of victims worldwide each year. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received more than 16,000 sextortion reports in 2021, with losses surpassing $8 million. In the first quarter of 2023, Australia’s eSafety commissioner reported receiving over 1700 sextortion complaints (up from 600 in Q1 of 2022).
Sextortion has become increasingly common due to it targeting victims of all demographics. Most victims of sextortion are young males, however, the crime can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race, or sexual orientation.
What Does Sextortion Typically Look Like?
Sextortion may take place on almost every online platform imaginable, including:
In short, sextortionists are present anywhere an attractive stranger can reach out to you. These scammers often use stolen or photoshopped photos to create fake profiles. They frequently contact several potential victims at once, hoping at least one will respond.
They then attempt to build trust with their victims, eventually escalating the conversation into one of a flirtatious and sexual nature. They may manipulate victims into sending nude selfies or engaging in sexting. Others attempt to move the conversation to a video chat platform, where they coerce the victim into engaging in sexual acts on video. Many scammers use explicit videos of “themselves” (stolen from a pornographic site) to lure the victim into a false sense of security.
As soon as the sextortionist obtains the compromising content, they drop the friendly act. They threaten to share the sensitive content online or with the victim’s friends and family unless their demands are met.
Sextortion is an extremely invasive and embarrassing scam that causes victims to feel anxiety, shame, and panic. Sextortionists leverage their victims’ fear to coerce them into paying a ransom quickly.
What Are Some Examples of Sextortion in the News?
In one large-scale sextortion case, Anton Martynenko preyed on at least 150 young male athletes in the US. He catfished his victims, posing as attractive women on social media, and convinced these boys to send him nude selfies. He then extorted more sexual images and sexual favors. Sadly, two of the victims are believed to have ended their lives over the sextortion. Martynenko was sentenced to 38 years in prison.
Other sextortion cases begin with a hacked webcam. In 2010, Luis Mijangos pleaded guilty to hacking into hundreds of women’s computers using a malware virus. He secretly recorded his victims in various states of undress and intimacy, then threatened to publish those videos if the victims did not send him more pornographic content. Eventually, Mijangos was caught and sentenced to six years in prison.
How Does Sextortion Differ From Other Forms of Blackmail?
All extortion schemes involve threatening to reveal embarrassing, compromising information about a victim unless they meet the perpetrator’s demands.
Sextortion is a type of extortion; what makes it unique is that the information or content in question is sexual in nature. Not all sextortion schemes even need to involve explicit content; some victims in monogamous relationships could be compromised by a simple text message indicating they flirted with someone else.
How to Protect Yourself Against Sextortion
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Learning how to avoid becoming a prime target for a sextortionist can save you untold mental anguish in the future.
In this section, we explain how to shore up your online defenses and protect yourself against most sextortion attempts.
What Types of Information or Media Are Used in Sextortion Attacks?
Sextortion schemes usually involve sensitive content such as nude selfies, videos displaying intimate acts, and flirtatious or sexual private messages. They often obtain this media through online romance scams where they convince the victim to send suggestive photos, videos, or texts willingly. Other sextortionists steal the compromising content from the victim’s social media accounts or hack into the victim’s personal devices.
Sextortionists also use their victims’ personal data as leverage. They might find this personal information from the victim’s public social media accounts, or they may obtain the information by phishing or malware.
The best way to protect yourself from these scammers is to understand the types of information they target, such as your:
- Full name,
- Phone number(s),
- Email address(es)
- Social media handle(s)
- School or workplace, and
- Friends and family.
Sextortionists use knowledge of your real life to harass and threaten you. For instance, if they know where you work and how to contact your friends and family, they can follow through on their threats more easily. If they do not have access to this information, it will be harder for them to extort you.
Protect your personal information by adjusting your privacy on social media platforms. Also, make it a habit to avoid sharing this information with anyone you do not know well.
What Are the Easiest Ways to Protect Yourself Against Sextortion?
Preventing a sextortionist from scamming you involves protecting your privacy and being cautious when interacting with others online. Follow these tips to reduce the chances of being targeted by a sextortionist:
When in Doubt, Do Not Share
It is easy to feel safe when posting on social media. Many users post confidently about their location, hobbies, and other personal details. But remember: if your account is public, your friends are not the only people who can see what you post.
Make it a habit to post as little about yourself as possible. The less you share, the less a potential scammer will know about you.
Maximize Your Social Media Privacy Settings
Every major social media platform allows users to limit who sees and interacts with their profile. By maximizing the privacy of your social profiles, you prevent malicious strangers from learning personal information about you.
Use Strong Passwords For All Accounts
Set strong, unique passwords for every online account—and change them regularly. You can also use two-factor authentication to make it harder for hackers to access your private data.
Be Wary of Strangers
When interacting with someone you do not know online, be cautious. Do not accept friend requests from users you do not know, and avoid sharing sensitive information with new connections. Remember that it is almost impossible to be sure someone online is who they say they are—so even if you recognize a new connection’s picture or name, proceed with caution.
If you use dating sites, you may want to use a pseudonym initially. Using a pseudonym or nickname makes it more difficult for sextortionists to uncover your real identity and extort you.
Avoid Sexting, if Possible
While it may not be practical to entirely avoid sexting or sending nude images, make it a rare occurrence. Remember that even if you trust the recipient of an explicit image or text, once you send intimate content, you lose control over where it goes next.
Avoid Phishing & Hacking Vulnerabilities
Never click on links or attachments from strangers. You should even be careful with attachments from people you know. The most common malware attacks are often introduced to a new device via a link or file attachment.
It is also wise to cover your webcam and turn off your devices when not in use. Some sextortionists hack into webcams to record victims without their knowledge.
Finally, use quality antivirus software with built-in email protection. Such software helps filter out phishing emails and protect your device from several common malware attacks.
Opt-Out of Data Broker Websites
Data broker sites collect and sell user information; however, most well-known platforms allow individuals to opt out. Some sites agree to remove your entire profile, while others will only remove certain data.
The opt-out procedure varies among brokers, and they can sometimes be difficult to find. To learn more and see a master list of opt-out links, see our in-depth guide: “How to Remove Yourself From Data Broker Sites”.
How Do You Know Who You Can Trust Online?
Unfortunately, you can never be 100% sure you should trust a person you just met on the internet.
Even if you have met the person in real life and can reasonably believe they are who they claim to be, be mindful of what kinds of information you share online. But if a stranger reaches out to you and you do not know them in real life, be even more cautious.
If you want to research a new connection’s identity, you can follow these tips:
- Conduct a reverse image search of their photos. Some scammers steal pictures from other profiles and websites, so if the photos come from a completely different person’s profile, this is a major red flag.
- Google their full name. Be mindful of what a simple Google search reveals about them.
- Look for mutual friends and followers. Shared connections signify that the person is following you for legitimate reasons. You can also ask your mutual friends and followers about the new “friend” before accepting the connection request.
- Research their online activity. Do they seem to post about their everyday life? Are their friends and connections commenting on their posts? An absence of normal activity before they reach out to you is a red flag. Look for activity on their other social media accounts if you can find them.
- When in doubt, conduct a background check. If the new connection seems too good to be true, it probably is. Remember: a quality background check costs much less than falling prey to a sextortion scam.
What to Do If You Have Been Sextorted Online
Falling prey to a sextortion scammer is a scary and isolating experience. While your first instinct might be to pay the ransom, this course of action almost never makes the problem disappear.
But the good news is that there are ways to fight back against a sextortionist. Below, we list 10 actionable and effective steps to take if you have been sextorted.
Stay Calm & Do Not Panic
First, try to remain focused and composed. Sextortionists use your fear and panic to try to coerce you into meeting their demands quickly.
It may feel like paying the ransom is your only choice, but that is not true. Take a deep breath, confide in a trusted friend or family member, and approach the situation with a clear head. You have more control over the situation than it appears.
Stop Engaging With the Sextortionist & Do Not Pay
Not responding or ignoring sextortion may carry risks, but so does engaging further with the perpetrator. Replying to their messages may give them even more information to use as leverage against you.
Engaging in further conversation can cause you more stress—while showing the scammer that you are a prime target. If the perpetrator knows they have your attention, they may escalate the situation with even more threats and demands.
Similarly, it may feel like your only option is to follow the scammer’s orders. But in most situations, paying a sextortionist or giving in to their demands will not make the problem disappear.
Should You Ignore Sextortion? The Difference Between Ignoring & Not Responding
You should not ignore sextortion. It is important to understand that “not responding” to a sextortionist and “ignoring” them are two different things. While you should generally not respond directly to the scammer’s messages and threats, that does not mean you should ignore the situation.
Do not bury your head in the sand and ignore the sextortion threats. While engaging with a sextortionist adds fuel to the fire, ignoring sextortion can waste valuable time you could spend reporting the crime, securing your digital footprint, and being on high alert for other online threats.
For further reading, please see our comprehensive article answering a common question we receive, ‘How Long Does Sextortion Last?’
Preserve Evidence of the Sextortion
Your first instinct may be to delete the messages and material the scammer sent you. But deleting this evidence only makes it more difficult to hold them accountable. Reporting the harassment to law enforcement—and bringing a successful legal claim—requires proof.
Take screenshots of proof such as:
- All messages between yourself and the perpetrator,
- The sextortionist’s online profile(s),
- URLs of any harmful posts they made about you, and
- URLs of the sextortionist’s account(s).
Try to document the timeline of the sextortion scam, from the first contact to their most recent threats. The more evidence you have of the sextortion, the easier it will be for law enforcement, your attorney, or another professional to hold them accountable.
Adjust Privacy Settings on All Online Accounts
Even if you have not been sextorted, it is wise to maximize your privacy settings on social media. But victims of 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.
Avoid Getting Ahead of the Story
If a sextortionist threatens to publish compromising content about you, you may want to tell your friends and family your side of the story first. But many sextortionists never follow through on their threats—so it may not be necessary to tell anyone.
In these cases, it is not a good idea to try getting ahead of the story.
On the other hand, sextortion scammers rely on your feelings of anxiety and isolation. Sharing your experience can help remove some of the sextortionist’s power over you. Especially if you are underage, we recommend reaching out to a trusted family member or adult for help.
Either way, the decision to tell others about the sextortion scheme should be well thought-out, not a choice made in the heat of the moment.
For Parents: Be There For Your Child
If your child confides in you about being the victim of a sextortionist, the best thing you can do is support them. The number one predictor of an underage sextortion victim’s emotional health is whether they have a family member’s support. The scammer targeting your child is hoping to isolate them from their support system.
Remember that the internet is a dangerous place, and anyone is a potential target of sextortion scams. Reassure your child that they are not in trouble, and take a stand to protect them.
For further reading, please see our comprehensive resource by attorney Dorrian Horsey addressing ‘What to Do if Your Child is the Target of Sextortion’.
Report the Sextortion to Law Enforcement & Cybercrime Agencies
You can help bring the scammer to justice by making a report to law enforcement. Aside from filing a report with your local police, you can report sextortion to these national and international agencies:
- Your local FBI Field Office,
- Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3),
- National Center For Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and
Report the Sextortion to the Platform or App Where it Occurred
You can also report the sextortionist to the social media or dating site where they targeted you. Every major social and dating platform has policies for reporting harassment and harmful online attacks.
By reporting them to the platform and having their profile suspended, you make it harder for the perpetrator to harass others. See the following resources for reporting sextortion to various social media platforms:
Reach Out to a Sextortion Attorney
Experienced internet attorneys can advise you on the best strategy for dealing with your sextortionist. At Minc Law, know how to communicate with scammers on your behalf and end harassment on all major online platforms. We can remove defamatory online content, have it de-indexed from Google search, and work with law enforcement to hold extortionists accountable for their actions.
And most importantly, an experienced sextortion attorney knows how to resolve your matter quickly and discreetly without drawing unnecessary attention to the situation.
Beware of Sextortion Assistance Service Scams
While you should not face sextortion alone, beware of falling prey to unethical sextortion assistance services. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported an increase in sextortion assistance scams in 2023.
Sextortion recovery scams take advantage of victims, posing as legal professionals or cybersecurity experts. Be suspicious of any unsolicited offers of help, especially if the service requires upfront payment or discourages you from filing a police report.
Video: Red Flags of Sextortion Services to Avoid Becoming a Victim Twice
Do your research on any assistance service or firm before hiring them. Seek legitimate help from a trusted legal team like Minc Law, whose experienced lawyers can give expert support and guidance, protecting your rights and fighting back against sextortionists.
Familiarize Yourself With Free Resources & Services Available
Even if you cannot afford professional legal assistance, it is essential to confide in trusted allies. The following resources and agencies offer advice and assistance to sextortion victims:
- FBI Scams and Safety: answers frequently asked questions about sextortion
- Thorn: a helpline and resource center for child and teen sextortion victims
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC): hotline and information about underage sextortion.
To learn more about free and affordable resources for sextortion victims, please see our guides “What to Do If Someone is Blackmailing You With Nude Photos” and “Where to Turn For Sextortion Help If You Are Being Threatened Online.”
Navigating the Aftermath of Sextortion
Even after resolving a sextortion scam attempt, it is important to protect your digital footprint and guard against future attacks. Below, we list the most crucial steps to take to safeguard your privacy in the aftermath of sextortion.
Lock Down All Online Profiles & Information
First, keep your online accounts set to the maximum privacy settings as are practical, and update your passwords every 3-6 months. If you have not done so already, it is also a good idea to opt out of data broker sites and similar online databases.
You can also employ a VPN (virtual private network) to obscure your location and encrypt your online activity. The most popular VPN services include ExpressVPN, Norton Secure VPN, and Surfshark.
Monitor the Internet With Digital Risk Protection Services
If a sextortionist targets you on one platform, they may not stop there. Keep an eye on your overall online footprint across devices and platforms. That way, you can promptly identify any new attacks or posts and respond appropriately.
Online reputation monitoring tools help you recognize and respond to threats in real time. Ultimately, these tools let you mitigate any damage caused by a sextortionist following through on their threats.
Consider employing free tools (such as Google Alerts) and paid services (such as Minc Law’s Digital Risk Protection service). Minc Law’s DRP service uses a combination of tools and techniques to find, evaluate, and eliminate digital threats as they appear. That way, you can rest assured knowing your reputation is being protected at all times.
To learn more, please see our guide to monitoring your reputation after a cyberattack.
Utilize Content Removal Services & Strategies
If the sextortionist has followed through on their threats and posted compromising content about you online, engage an expert to help remove that content. We recommend the following steps:
- Reporting the content for Terms of Service violations. Most legitimate platforms prohibit explicit content and revenge porn. Reporting content that violates the platform’s Terms of Service (ToS) can result in its removal.
- Submitting a DMCA takedown notice. A DMCA takedown notifies a platform that the content in question violates copyright. If you created the content in question, you are likely a copyright holder—meaning if someone else posted it without your permission, they violated your copyright.
- Engaging the services of content removal specialists. For instance, Minc Law’s team is experienced in navigating platform reporting procedures and removing sensitive content from the internet quickly and discreetly.
We recommend reading our in-depth guide, “12 Steps For Removing Content From the Internet,” to learn more about effective content removal strategies.
Implement Online Reputation Management Best Practices & Strategies
Online reputation management (ORM) strategies and professional reputation management services use a combination of digital marketing, public relations, and search engine optimization (SEO) tools to curate your brand image and protect your online footprint.
ORM can ultimately help lessen the impact of future online attacks against your reputation and ensure internet search results show the reputation you want to convey. It is also a viable strategy for suppressing negative content and search results in cases where you cannot remove damaging content from the internet.
Seek Counsel From Emotional Support or Mental Health Professionals
Being the target of sextortion can cause immediate and long-term consequences for your emotional health. We recommend seeking help from trusted friends and family as soon as the attack takes place. You can also call a mental health hotline or a sextortion-specific hotline (such as Thorn). Please do not attempt to navigate this difficult experience on your own.
Some victims of sextortion suffer extreme stress, anxiety, and even thoughts of self-harm. Please know that nothing is worth hurting yourself—you are a victim and your well-being matters. Please call the Suicide Prevention Helpline at 988 any time of the day or night for judgment-free support.
Long-term mental health support can also be extremely invaluable. A psychologist or psychiatrist can help you work through long-term symptoms like depression and anxiety. If you are underage or your underage child has been sextorted, please see our comprehensive guide: “What to Do If Your Child is the Target of Sextortion.”
Minc Law Can Help You Navigate Sextortion Attacks
While it may be tempting to ignore a sextortion threat and avoid taking action to lock down your online presence, doing so can often result in further stress and damage. Understand that you do not have to go through this alone and that you can still move forward to have a successful life. Sextortion is an extremely common online scam and will not ruin your life.
At Minc Law, we can help you navigate through this difficult time, provide objective advice on how to best proceed, step in to communicate with the sextortionist on your behalf, shore up your online profiles and accounts, and remove intimate content (should it be posted). We have helped hundreds of victims fight back against this invasive form of intimidation and harassment.
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 19, 2022
By taking actionable steps to address sextortion head-on, you can take back control over your life and online presence. Reach out to schedule your initial, no-obligation consultation by calling (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat representative, or filling out our online contact form.
If you are a fit for our sextortion services, we offer paid emergency consultations with a dedicated sextortion attorney for $500.
Video: Minc Law Sextortion Client Testimonial – John Doe