“Someone is threatening to post a video of me on Facebook!” is a common phrase we hear from panicked clients who contact our firm. Usually, these images, videos, and other media are of a sensitive or intimate nature.
If someone is threatening to post an intimate video of you on Facebook, it can be difficult to know how to respond and what course of action to take. We recommend taking the following actions:
- Do not panic,
- Set all social media profiles to private,
- Stop engaging with the perpetrator and do not give in to their demands,
- Preserve all communications with the sexortionist, as well as any identifying information (such as the perpetrator’s Facebook account URL),
- Report the sextortionist to Facebook by clicking the three dots on the upper right corner of the abusive post or their profile, select ‘Find Support or Report Photo/Page’, and follow the on-screen directions,
- Monitor your online mentions for subsequent attacks and content, and
- Consult an experienced sextortion attorney.
Being the target of Facebook sextortion can be a scary, embarrassing, and isolating experience. At Minc Law, we take the burden of communication with the sextortionist out of your hands and create an effective response and monitoring plan. We can identify internet perpetrators, handle communication with them, and put an end to the harassment as quickly and painlessly as possible.
In this article, we explain what sextortion is and what it typically looks like on Facebook. We then provide you with detailed steps to follow—and your legal options—if someone is threatening to post an intimate video of you on Facebook.
What is Sextortion?
First, someone threatening to share an intimate video, media, or information is a form of sextortion. Regardless of your perception of “how bad” the situation is, you are a victim of a sextortion attempt if that description applies to you.
Below, we define sextortion in greater detail and explain how it works in today’s digital landscape.
What Qualifies as Sextortion?
Sextortion is the threat of publishing explicit media (images and videos) or information about a victim if they do not give in to the sextortionist’s demands. Usually, sextortionists demand money, sexual images, or actual sexual favors in exchange for keeping the explicit content private.
Victims of sextortion are often terrified that this intimate media will make its way into the public sphere where all of their friends, family, and coworkers will see it. This explicit content could take the form of sexual images, videos, or even suggestive chat messages.
Sextortion is also commonly referred to as:
How Does Sextortion Work?
In almost all cases of sextortion, the perpetrator creates a fake identity to form a relationship with the victim. The perpetrator’s end goal is to trick the victim into sending compromising content, like images, videos, and explicit chat messages.
This process is a form of catfishing, which can have several motives including extortion, harassment, and revenge. Most sextortionists, however, have the simple goal of extorting money from strangers.
At Minc Law, our experience has been that most sextortionists live overseas. Most commonly, we find that sextortionists operate out of one of the following countries:
- The Philippines,
- Côte d’Ivoire (The Ivory Coast),
- Mexico, and
Because many sextortionists choose victims in other countries and frequently operate from public internet cafes, they believe that they are insulated from any consequences. Because of their perceived safety, they often feel free to target as many victims as possible.
For further information on sextortion overseas, we recommend reading our comprehensive resource by attorney Christina Williams explaining what to do if you are the target of a Philippine sextortion scam.
What Does Sextortion Typically Look Like on Facebook?
Common sextortion scams and interactions on Facebook (and other social media platforms) usually follow a similar pattern. For example, John is perusing his Facebook news feed and notices that he has received a friend request from a stranger, who appears to be an attractive woman. John accepts the friend request.
His new friend reaches out to him via Messenger to say hello. They begin chatting—just small talk at first, but the conversation quickly becomes flirtatious. Eventually, John’s charming new friend suggests that they move their conversation to a Skype video call or a third-party messaging app, like Kik.
John agrees, and before he can think better of it, he is convinced to commit sexual acts on camera. Perhaps the “friend” appears to be on camera and is engaging in explicit activity as well—how is John to know that the “live feed” on the other end is actually a pre-recorded video that does not contain the scammer at all?
After John shares the explicit content, things take a turn for the worse. The “friend” suddenly stops being so friendly. They tell John they have been recording him and threaten to post the intimate video to Facebook for all of his friends, family, and colleagues to see if he does not send money (often Bitcoin).
Minc Law Tip: If a stranger has friended you on social media, one way to check for red flags is to conduct a reverse image search of their profile photo. Doing so can enable you to find any other websites, profiles, and platforms that have used the photograph. The photo may be stolen from another person’s profile, or it may be a stock image. If something seems “off” about the reverse image search results, it probably is. Do not accept the friend request if that is the case.
What is the Difference Between Sextortion & Regular Extortion?
Extortion is the act of using threats to obtain something from the victim (usually money). Sextortion is a specific type of extortion—one in which the perpetrator threatens to use personal, intimate images or media against the victim if the victim does not comply with the sextortionist’s requests.
Who Are the Most Common Targets of Sextortion?
For most perpetrators, sextortion is a numbers game.
These scammers attack as many people as they can, regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation. While sextortion victims are most commonly either underage or 40-to-70-year-old men, the risk of being sextorted applies to anyone willing to chat with strangers online.
Any individual who is on a dating site or active on social media with a public profile is a potential target for sextortion.
Steps to Deal With a Sextortionist on Facebook Without Taking Legal Action
While you may wish to take immediate legal action, there are several effective steps you can take first if you are a victim of sextortion. Below, we cover the actions you should take after receiving a sextortion threat on Facebook—along with a few actions you should avoid at all costs.
What Should You Do If Someone is Threatening to Post Your Intimate Videos on Facebook?
If you receive a threat that someone will post your intimate videos or media on Facebook, you should take the following actions immediately. Do not wait to protect yourself and gather the appropriate information, even as you begin reporting the incident to the authorities and/or contacting legal representation to help you.
1. Do Not Panic
First, remain calm. Just because someone is threatening to post an intimate image or video online, it does not mean they will necessarily follow through. We discuss this more in the video below.
Video: What are the Chances a Sextortionist Follows Through?
The best way to handle the situation is to refrain from acting out of gut instinct or panic. Doing so could ultimately make the situation worse. Keep a clear head and know that you have more control of the situation than you think.
2. Set Social Media Profile to Private
Next, set all of your accounts to private immediately. Disable all social media accounts and public profiles you do not use and do not accept any friend requests from strangers.
To set your Facebook profile to private on your desktop, simply click on the arrow on the top right of your news feed and select “Settings and Privacy.”
On the settings page, click “Privacy” to view and adjust your privacy settings. From this page, you can choose who can see your posts, find your profile, send you private messages, and more.
3. Stop Engaging With the Sextortionist(s) Further
It is understandable to be afraid that the scammer will follow through on their threats if you do not respond to them. However, resist the urge to pay a ransom or try reasoning with the sextortionists.
Instead, immediately cut all communication with the scammer. They are hoping you will immediately panic and do what they ask; if you do not, they lose a great deal of their power.
Minc Law Reputation Management Fact: It is rarely a good idea to respond to any type of blackmailer or extortionist. In most cases, extortionists take your response to mean that you are an easy victim who will cave to their demands. Their demands will only become more aggressive and escalate in scope.
4. Preserve Evidence of All Communications With the Sextortionist
Next, resist the urge to delete the evidence and proof of contact. Understanding the accurate chronology of the messages and threats sent is of the utmost importance in devising an appropriate action plan for your particular situation.
Document any and all contact between you and the scammer. Take screenshots of chat messages—and be sure to include timestamps to demonstrate what happened when.
Furthermore, we recommend compiling a list of the sextortionist’s Facebook account URL, screen names, and any obvious email addresses associated with the account.
5. Report the Sextortionist’s Account to Facebook
Next, report the incident to Facebook for violating its Community Standards. You can report a Facebook profile by:
- Clicking the three dots in the upper right-hand corner (just under ‘Message),
- Clicking ‘Find support or report profile’, and
- Following the on-screen prompts.
If the sextortion occurs in a post on your wall, click the three dots in the upper right corner to see reporting options. Select the problem that best describes your situation.
Or, to report a private message on your desktop, click “Privacy and Support” on the right sidebar of the Messenger chat window.
In either case, select the option that best fits your situation. For Facebook sextortion, it is likely that “Harassment” is the right choice.
Facebook takes sextortion and other forms of online harassment very seriously, so do not hesitate to report an abusive account or post.
6. Monitor Your Online Mentions
Next, it is imperative that you monitor your online reputation for subsequent attacks, content, and mentions. The easiest way is to create a free Google Alerts account that will notify you anytime your name (or designated keyword) is mentioned anywhere online.
Digital risk protection services are another comprehensive way to monitor your reputation. This service uses online tools and services to protect against your digital risk, including monitoring platforms like social media, forums, and blogs.
What Should You Avoid If You Are the Victim of Sextortion?
Sometimes, our gut instincts serve us well—but often in the case of online sextortion, the correct course of action can be counterintuitive. Below, we cover two seemingly natural responses to sextortion that should be avoided at all costs.
Avoid Giving Into the Sextortionist’s Demands or Paying Them Money
No matter how much you are tempted to believe that doing so will make the problem go away, do not meet the scammer’s ransom demands. Paying them money or sending them more explicit content will only worsen the situation.
If you have already initiated a money transfer, act as quickly as possible to contact your bank or financial institution and cancel the money transfer before it is finalized. Most sextortionists choose to pick up money transfers in cash, so if you act quickly, you may be able to cancel the transfer before they can obtain the funds.
Avoid Trying to “Get Ahead of the Story”
You may also be inclined to control the narrative by informing your friends, family, and/or employer about the incident. But in our experience, most sextortionists do not follow through on their threats to publish the sexual content.
So if you jump the gun, you may find that in the end, your friends and family may never have found out if you had not told them.
Make sure to read our article by attorney Andrew Stebbins answering a common question we receive, ‘Do sextortionists follow through?’.
Why Should You Save All Communications You Receive From a Sextortionist?
Preserving all evidence of communication from a sextortionist allows you to create a chronological timeline of the incident. Having a thorough record of the sextortion attempt makes it more likely that you can have the social media platform suspend the perpetrator’s account.
And if you wish to take legal action, the more evidence, the better. Being able to prove what happened can help law enforcement identify and bring consequences for the scammer.
Legal Options to Stop Someone From Sharing Intimate Images & Videos on Facebook
While there are many steps you can take to better protect yourself from sextortion without engaging legal help, sometimes it is necessary to have professional assistance.
Below, we list law enforcement agencies where you can report the incident. Then we explain how cases are built against a sextortionist and what legal actions can be taken to stop them.
Where Should You Report Sextortion?
There are many options available to you to report sextortion, including local, federal, and international agencies. Choose as many options as you feel apply to your situation, since the more places you report the crime, the more likely it is that the criminal will be identified.
Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3)
The IC3 is a web-based portal for reporting criminal activity on the internet—including internet extortion and sextortion—to the FBI. Analysts review each complaint and forward them to the appropriate international, federal, state, or local law enforcement authorities.
To report sextortion to the IC3, visit their File a Complaint page and enter as much information as possible about the incident.
Your Local Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Field Office
You can also contact the FBI office in your local area directly. There are 56 FBI offices located across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, which all work closely with other law enforcement partners on cases and carry out investigations.
Visit the FBI’s list of field offices to find contact information for the office nearest you.
The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) is currently the world’s largest police cooperation and crime control agency. Since many sextortionists operate across international borders, INTERPOL may need to be involved.
To report your case to INTERPOL, contact your local and/or national police. They will then work with INTERPOL’s General Secretariat.
National Center For Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)
If the sextortion victim is underage, contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
You can report the incident using the NCMEC online contact form, calling 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678), or visiting the NCMEC’s cyber tipline.
Your Local Authorities
You can also contact your local police department, which may have a cyber crimes unit, about your situation.
The best way to contact your local authorities is to find the contact information of your nearest precinct office using a search engine. Then, you can file a complaint by calling the precinct or visiting in person.
Better Business Bureau (BBB)
While not a legal authority, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has a scam tracker that lets both businesses and consumers report scams across the United States and Canada. This tracker is an attempt to educate consumers and prevent similar scams from happening to others.
To report a sextortionist or scammer, visit the BBB Scam Tracker homepage, click “Report a Scam,” and fill in as much detail as possible about the incident.
Your Email Provider
Finally, you should report any emailed blackmail or extortion threats to the service provider where the email originated. For instance, if the email address ends in “gmail.com,” report the threat to Gmail. Other service providers include:
- iCloud Mail,
- Yahoo! Mail,
- AOL Mail.
If you do not know the domain name where the email is registered, you can use ICANN Lookup to find the email’s domain host. You can then contact that domain host to report the suspicious activity.
What Information is Useful When Building a Case Against a Sextortionist?
To build a case against a sextortionist, it is important to gather evidence of a timeline of events. Any screenshots or documentation of messages and conversations can help law enforcement and your attorney pursue the case as far and as quickly as possible.
Make sure to gather as much information as you can about the scammer, as well. Take screenshots of their:
- Account name,
- Profile photo, and the
- URL of their Facebook account page.
The more data points there are available, the more effective law enforcement and your attorney can be in seeking consequences for the scammer.
What Are Your Legal Options For Preventing Someone From Sharing Intimate Videos of You on Facebook?
Because of the anonymous and global nature of many sextortion attempts, it can be difficult for even the most experienced attorneys or law enforcement agencies to remedy the situation completely. But it can still be extremely helpful to seek out legal advice about how to handle the situation in the best way.
An experienced internet attorney can inform you of your legal rights and advise you on the appropriate course of action to deal with the sextortion. They can help prevent the sharing of intimate videos by crafting a response strategy and helping you avoid jumping the gun or responding inappropriately to the sextortion attempt.
Legal teams can also help you identify anonymous perpetrators, send a letter to the sextortionist telling them to cease and desist their unlawful behavior and work swiftly to have any published content removed. And a law firm that specializes in reputation management can help monitor the internet for intimate content and guard you against future attacks using digital risk protection (DRP) strategies.
It can be invaluable to have the support and advice of an experienced internet attorney who can help you avoid handing over your money out of panic or fear. Many such attorneys offer free consultations, so there is often no cost for initial guidance.
Minc Law Reputation Management Tip: At Minc Law, we have a DRP service that may help you identify and ward off online attacks against your or your business’ reputation. We recommend checking out our page on the subject for an overview of the services we offer: “Frequently Asked Questions About Digital Risk Protection.”
How to Find Legal Help to Prevent Intimate Videos From Being Shared on Facebook
If you are the victim of sextortion on Facebook, you should contact an experienced internet attorney immediately. Do not wait until it is too late or (you have already sent money to the sextortionist) to ask for help.
In this section, we provide tips on finding legal representation, resources explaining how to deal with Facebook sextortion on your own, and information on how law enforcement can help you.
Where Can You Hire an Attorney to Help You Prevent Intimate Videos Being Posted on Facebook?
There are a few reliable ways to locate a reliable sextortion attorney to handle your case. We recommend checking with:
- Friends, coworkers, and family for personal recommendations;
- Your local bar association;
- Legal databases like Avvo, Lawyers.com, and Martindale-Hubbel; and
- Search engines like Google, with keywords like “online sextortion lawyer + [your state]”.
Make sure that when looking for a lawyer to help you deal with Facebook sextortion, you find one who is experienced in internet law. You would not hire a dermatologist to handle a heart operation; for the same reason, you should not hire a family lawyer to handle your internet sextortion case.
One way to tell if a law firm is knowledgeable and experienced in internet sextortion matters is to check their website. Do they handle your specific type of case? Do they have testimonials or reviews from previous clients who were in a similar situation as yours?
The right firm should have content on its website providing guidance and information about handling internet sextortion. The best sextortion attorneys will have enough personal experience in this type of case that they can advise you on all of the risks, costs, options, and best practices involved.
Where Can You Find Resources & Guidance If You Are Being Threatened by a Sextortionist?
Being the victim of sextortion can feel like an extremely delicate and embarrassing situation, and it is understandable that you might be resistant to the idea of asking for help. Your harasser may be threatening you with consequences if you tell anyone about your situation, or you may simply not want a record of the incident filed anywhere.
If you are hesitant to file an official report with the FBI or other law enforcement agency, there are still places you can turn to for help—and if you are underage, we recommend you start by telling a trusted adult about what has happened.
The following resources can give you helpful information and advice about how to handle a sextortion scam on Facebook:
- Attorney General’s Cyber Exploitation Task Force—A website with resources for both victims and law enforcement created by the California Department of Justice;
- Thinkuknow—An educational website from a U.K. organization dedicated to protecting children;
- Samaritans—A judgment-free listening service;
- Cyber Civil Rights Initiative—A website with a crisis helpline, online content removal guide, and other helpful tips for victims of cyber harassment;
- Crash Override—A cybersecurity resource center;
- HeartMob—An online support network for victims of harassment online;
- Revenge Porn Helpline—A U.K. advice, support, and content removal service for adult victims of revenge porn.
- Without My Consent (WMC)—Educational materials for victims, advocates, law enforcement, and attorneys regarding digital privacy, free speech, equality, and due process;
- PAPYRUS—A confidential hotline providing advice and support for young people struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm;
- Get Safe Online—Resources for protecting oneself online, including while shopping, using social media, and banking.
Keep in mind that while many sextortion victims choose to go it alone using the resources listed above, we recommend at least consulting with an experienced internet attorney first. They can give you a useful perspective and information about building a comprehensive strategy for handling your unique situation.
How Can Law Enforcement Help You If You Are Being Threatened by a Sextortionist on Facebook?
While sextortion is a crime, most sextortion attempts take place across online and international borders. Most local law enforcement agencies are not fully equipped to deal with sextortion on Facebook. While reporting the sextortion to the police cannot hurt the situation, you will need to take it upon yourself to partner with an experienced internet attorney to help you handle the situation head-on.
“Michael was great to work with, he understood the issue I was having with an extortion case and took control of all communication. The situation was resolved in a timely fashion and I feel great about the outcome. I would recommend Minc and Michael to anyone having the same issue.”
CR, Nov 24, 2021
If you are ready to learn about your options, contact Minc Law today to schedule your free, initial no-obligation consultation. Call us at (216) 373-7706, fill out our contact form, or speak with a chat representative today.