What to Do If You Are the Target of Webcam Sextortion
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Has a stranger threatened to release an explicit webcam video of you unless you pay a ransom? This serious crime is known as webcam sextortion, and unfortunately, it is becoming more and more prevalent in our increasingly online world.
If you are the target of webcam sextortion, we recommend taking the following steps right away:
- Do not meet the perpetrator’s demands,
- Do not reply to or engage with the perpetrator,
- Document evidence of all communications with the perpetrator,
- Maximize the privacy settings on all of your social profiles,
- Report the webcam sextortion to the platforms where the sextortion took place,
- Make a report to the IC3 and other law enforcement authorities, and
- Enlist the help of an experienced internet attorney.
At Minc Law, we have helped hundreds of clients like you take control of these stressful, panic-inducing situations without drawing unnecessary attention. We know how to prevent the release of embarrassing content, identify anonymous perpetrators, and work with law enforcement to hold extortionists liable for their crimes. We can also take control of communicating with the sextortionists, becoming a human shield between the extortionist and the victim.
In this article, we provide several common examples of webcam sextortion and how it takes place. Then, we provide actionable tips for how to respond to webcam sextortion quickly and effectively.
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How Webcam Sextortion Happens
Webcam sextortion can take place in several contexts, from social media to dating websites—and even in email phishing schemes. Below, we cover the definition of webcam sextortion and a few common webcam sextortion scenarios.
What is Sextortion?
A perpetrator commits the crime of sextortion when they threaten to share explicit and/or private information about you if you do not meet their demands. These demands usually take the form of money, more explicit images, or sexual favors.
Sextortion is also referred to as:
- Web sextortion,
- Online extortion,
- Sexual extortion,
- Webcam blackmail,
- Online sextortion,
- Internet blackmail,
- Online harassment,
- Cyber harassment, or simply
In our experience at Minc Law, we find that many sextortionists typically operate from the Ivory Coast, the Philippines, Burkina Faso, and Morocco. It is the sextortionist’s goal to cause you to panic at the thought of your intimate videos or photos being released online for all of your acquaintances to see. Sextortionists count on your fear to cause you to meet their demands right away.
Make sure to read our comprehensive article explaining what to do if you are the target of a Philippine sextortion scam.
What Are Some Examples of Online Sextortion Scams?
The most common examples of online sextortion scams include:
- Social media sextortion,
- Dating website sextortion, and
- Bitcoin sextortion using email phishing.
Social Media Sextortion
Social media’s pervasiveness makes it a rampant breeding ground for sextortion and other scams. And since most of these sites let users send private messages and photos and chat via webcam, it is no surprise that sextortionists look for victims on social media.
Even in many webcam sextortion situations that do not take place over social media, the sextortion scam typically begins on a social media platform like Facebook or Instagram. These platforms—where you have a profile and your identity is already known—reduce the amount of work a sextortionist needs to put in. They can more easily learn details about you that make catfishing you easier.
Any platform where users can meet and communicate with strangers is a possible hunting ground for sextortionists, including:
- Social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter;
- Video chat platforms like Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts; and
- Online video games like Fortnite, Minecraft, and World of Warcraft.
Often, webcam sextortionists will build up their victims’ trust on social media before asking to get on a video call. They may then use pre-recorded or stolen videos of an attractive person to lull the victim into a false sense of security. Once the victim “returns the favor” by engaging in compromising activities, the scammer uses that recorded footage to blackmail them.
The sextortionist usually threatens to publish the intimate media or share it with the victim’s friends and family if a ransom is not paid.
Dating Website Sextortion
While sextortion scams on dating apps are not as common as on social media, they can still happen. And those who use online dating platforms may be more open to exploitation due to their vulnerable emotional state—such as after a breakup.
Sextortionists commonly search for victims on dating apps like:
- Tinder, and
- Plenty of Fish.
In execution, dating profile sextortion scams resemble social media sextortion. The scammer poses as an attractive person who is interested in getting to know you. They eventually ask for intimate photos or media—or they ask you to move to a “more private” video app to chat.
Once they have recorded or obtained intimate images of you, they threaten to release the content to your friends and family unless you meet their demands.
Another common sextortion scheme is to claim the person you were on a webcam call with is underage. The scammer threatens to report you to the FBI or other law enforcement unless you pay a ransom.
If you are sextorted on a dating app, we recommend reading our comprehensive guides ‘What to Do If You Are the Target of Grindr Sextortion’ and ‘What to Do If You Are the Target of a Plenty of Fish Sextortion Scam’.
Bitcoin Sextortion & Email Phishing
In recent years, the rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin has resulted in extremely sophisticated sextortion schemes. One common scam involves the perpetrator finding your email address and password through a large-scale data breach. They send a scripted phishing email to thousands of victims whose personal information was leaked in the breach.
These phishing and scam emails may claim to be from the business that was hacked, informing potential victims that their accounts were disabled. In this case, the perpetrator’s goal would be to extract more sensitive information from recipients.
But sextortionists would send a phishing email that claims they have access to the victim’s computer, browsing history, personal files, or webcam. The message in this type of scam usually gives the reader a time limit to send payment—in the form of Bitcoin—to prevent the publication of this sensitive media.
The demand for payment via cryptocurrency should immediately raise a red flag. If you receive an email claiming to have sensitive information about you, and you can only prevent its release by paying the sender in Bitcoin, think twice before complying.
This type of scam is a numbers game. Perpetrators send hundreds or thousands of sextortion emails hoping that just one person will be gullible enough to believe them. It is likely an empty threat, so the best thing to do is simply ignore it. Delete the sextortion email, change your password, and do not respond or pay the ransom.
Make sure to read our comprehensive guide explaining how to spot and avoid cam girl scams.
How Common Is Webcam Blackmail?
Unfortunately, webcam blackmail (also known as webcam sextortion) is an all-too-common occurrence on social media and dating sites. In fact, the FBI estimates that more than 18,000 sextortion-related complaints were made to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in 2021, with monetary losses of more than $13.6 million.
What to Do if You Are a Subject of Webcam Sextortion
If you are the target of a sextortionist, it is natural to feel panicked and unsure of where to turn. But it is important to remain calm and refrain from acting quickly.
Scammers deliberately try to threaten and intimidate their victims into acting out of panic and making decisions that they will later regret.
What Should You Avoid Doing if You Are the Target of Webcam Sextortion?
If you are being harassed by a sextortionist online, there are a few natural inclinations that you should avoid.
You may think you have no other choice but to respond, pay the ransom, and “get ahead of the story” by telling your friends and family about the incident. But in most cases, these instincts are wrong.
Avoid Engaging With the Perpetrator Further
First, do not reply to the sextortionist’s threatening messages. Instead, act quickly to document all evidence of your messages with the scammer.
When a scammer is sextorting their victim with still images, they typically send the photo with a threatening message. These types of scams are easy to document. When the sensitive media is in the form of video, on the other hand, the sextortionist usually sends a short clip as part of their threat.
At Minc Law, we have seen a pattern of webcam sextortion victims receiving these clipped videos and wondering if the sextortionist actually has any compromising video of them. This uncertainty usually prompts the victim to respond to the scammer to try to learn more information—but the more ammunition you give the scammer, the more chance of a potential blowup.
Even if you are unsure of how much information the scammer has on you, do not try to engage with them. Simply document the messages they sent you, and reach out to an experienced attorney and/or law enforcement for help.
Avoid Trying to “Get Ahead of the Story”
When a sextortionist is threatening to release sensitive videos or images of you to your friends and family, it is natural to want to mitigate the damage by telling your own version of events.
But most sextortionists never follow through on their threats—and you may be able to resolve the situation before the situation escalates further (especially if you have the help of an experienced attorney). So in many cases, your friends and family may never have found out about this embarrassing situation if you had not told them.
For further reading, please see our comprehensive resource ‘Do Sextortionists Follow Through?’
Avoid Giving in to the Perpetrator’s Demands
It may feel easiest to simply pay the ransom and hope the problem goes away. But in most cases, paying a sextortionist will only encourage them to keep harassing you.
Meeting their demands does not guarantee that they will delete their video; on the contrary, they will see you as someone who can be manipulated. They will feel emboldened to keep asking for more money or sexual favors.
What Steps Should You Take to Deal With Webcam Sextortion?
Now that you know what actions to avoid in the event of a webcam sextortion attempt, here are five essential actions to take to protect yourself immediately:
Document All Communications & Evidence
It may be your first instinct to delete all messages and images sent by a sextortionist. But deleting this evidence only makes it harder to pursue a case against them. If you plan to report the crime to law enforcement, you will need tangible documentation as evidence of their crimes against you.
Be sure to screenshot the specific dates and times that the scammer messaged you, since establishing a detailed chronological timeline is important when prosecuting a case. And to help refute any claims that you have doctored or tampered with the evidence, we recommend asking a trusted friend or relative to help you document the evidence.
Secure All Online Accounts & Social Media Profiles
Do not give potential scammers and sextortionists free ammunition to use against you. Secure your online footprint by setting all social media profiles to private. Be wary of friend requests from users you do not know—and be suspicious of profiles that are not in your immediate network and have minimal posts.
And if you have already become the target of a sextortionist or blackmailer, block them on social media to prevent them from contacting you or seeing important information about you—like a list of your family and friends.
If the perpetrator responds to being blocked by creating multiple accounts to harass you, you may want to delete your social media profile entirely until the situation can be resolved. You may also want to take this action if you are a target of public shaming on social media.
Contact the Relevant Social Media Apps, Dating Websites, & Other Platforms
If there is no form to report sextortion and other online attacks, your next best option may be to email the website directly.
However, most social platforms are constantly bombarded with content removal requests and reports, which means it can take several days—or even weeks—to receive a proper response.
If the sextortionist has posted explicit content about you online, social media sites are not necessarily obligated to remove it. Social media platforms are classified as user-generated content sites, which means they are protected from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). So while these sites may remove content that violates their terms of service, they are under no obligation to remove certain kinds of content.
Monitor Your Online Search Results & Social Mentions
If you have been targeted for sextortion on one platform, the scammer may not stop there. You should monitor your online reputation across various sites in case they attack or post about you elsewhere.
One easy way to monitor your online search results is to set up a Google Alert for your name or another keyword. Then, Google will alert you each time your chosen keyword appears in search results.
Reach Out to an Experienced Internet Attorney
The legal areas of online blackmail and webcam sextortion are extremely complex and nuanced—and each state’s laws vary widely. Some state-specific statutes do not even mention sextortion by name.
If you have been targeted by a webcam sextortionist, you should reach out to an experienced internet attorney as soon as possible. The faster you have an experienced professional on your side, the more time (and headaches) you will save.
Experienced internet lawyers have the legal tactics to combat online sextortion quickly and cost-effectively. They can help you by:
- Identifying malicious online scammers,
- Taking over the burden of communicating with the perpetrator,
- Removing defamatory and harmful content the perpetrator has posted,
- Get harmful content de-indexed from Google search results, and
- Work with applicable law enforcement agencies to hold perpetrators liable.
For further reading, we recommend checking out our comprehensive article explaining ‘How to Avoid Webcam Sextortion Scams During COVID-19’.
How You Can Keep Yourself Safe Online & Protect Against Webcam Sextortion
After the fact, it is easy to know that you have been the victim of sextortion. But if you can spot a scam before it happens, you may be able to protect yourself and your loved ones from falling prey to webcam blackmail and other similar forms of extortion.
We recommend taking the following steps to stay as safe as possible when interacting with strangers online:
Refrain From Engaging With Strangers in a Vulnerable State
The internet can be difficult to navigate even at the best of times—so when you are particularly vulnerable, try to avoid interacting with strangers online. For example, chatting with new acquaintances on a dating app after a recent breakup (or even after a few drinks) can make you more at risk of falling prey to a scam.
Be Cautious of New Connections
If a stranger sends you a friend request and then immediately tries to chat with you, do not automatically believe they are who they say they are.
Do a little research on their profile and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have any friends or connections in common?
- Do they have multiple posts and photos?
- When conducting a reverse image search of their profile photo, does it seem to be original?
If the answer to these questions is no, the person may be attempting to catfish you.
And even if they join a call with you and send a video of themselves engaging in intimate acts, do not immediately feel confident in “returning the favor.” These videos and images can easily be sourced from elsewhere online.
Avoid Invitations to Move to a Different Platform
Many sextortionists feel more comfortable conducting their scams on apps like FaceTime or WhatsApp because these platforms boast greater security.
If your new connection asks you to move to another platform to continue your conversation, this should be a red flag.
Do Not Open Attachments of People You Do Not Know
Another helpful rule of thumb when interacting with others online is to be wary of opening attachments others send you. Attachments can contain malware and viruses, which scammers can use to hack your webcam or gather other private information about you.
Turn Off Your Electronic Devices When Not Using Them
To protect your privacy from hackers, make it a habit to close your laptops and block your webcams when not in use. It is a good idea to cover your webcam with a privacy shutter or piece of tape when you are not actively using it—and make sure your children do the same.
Do Not Send Intimate Images or Videos of Yourself Online
The best way to protect yourself from sextortion is to refrain from sending nude images or videos online at all. Even if you send these images to a trusted partner, anyone’s cloud can be hacked.
But we understand that it may be impractical to refrain from sending intimate images at all. In that case, you can still protect yourself by using a pseudonym on dating sites. And do not include your face in photos or videos.
Do Sextortion Blackmailers Follow Through on Their Threats?
Being on the receiving end of a sextortion attempt is an understandably frightening experience. You may feel that you have no other option but to comply with the blackmailer’s demands.
But in reality, the scammer is hoping that you act quickly out of panic. Most sextortionists, in fact, never follow through on their threats.
While in the worst cases, some determined scammers do publish damaging content about their victims online, most are simply playing a numbers game. Following through on their threats is likely to draw the attention of law enforcement—and of course, posting the explicit content means losing their leverage over the victim.
If the intended victim does not cooperate, the odds are that the scammer will move on to their next target.
How to Report Webcam Sextortion
Reporting a sextortion attempt to the proper platforms and authorities can not only help bring the perpetrator to justice but prevent them from victimizing others in the same way. Below, we cover the platforms and agencies where you can report sextortion.
Where Should You Report Webcam Sextortion?
If you have fallen victim to sextortion, you should generally use all possible means to report the incident to the proper channels and agencies.
Start by reporting the sextortion to the platforms where the sextortion occurred. If the sextortionist’s messages took place on multiple platforms, first report the sextortion to the platform, app, or site where you were contacted. Then, report the incident to the platform you moved to (such as WhatsApp or Skype).
Next, you can report the sextortion to law enforcement agencies that handle cybercrime and related complaints. These agencies include:
- Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3),
- Local FBI field office,
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC),
- INTERPOL, and
- Local law enforcement.
Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3)
The IC3 is a web-based portal for reporting internet-related criminal activity to the FBI. It has been a respected reporting agency for more than two decades, and it is an excellent place for victims of all online fraud to report crimes.
Once you file a report with the IC3, an analyst reviews the incident and forwards it to the appropriate state, local, or international law enforcement authorities.
Contact Your Local Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Field Office
The FBI has 56 field offices in major cities across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. You can report internet sextortion to the FBI, which can carry out investigations and work with local law enforcement partners to resolve crimes.
Report to NCMEC
The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) is a nonprofit resource center and tip line for missing and exploited children. If the sextortion victim is a minor, you can make a report of the crime through their cyber tipline.
Report International Sextortion to INTERPOL
INTERPOL (or the International Criminal Police Organization) is the world’s largest police organization with 194 member countries. It is a law enforcement agency that facilitates worldwide police cooperation and crime control.
To report your situation to INTERPOL, you can contact your local and federal police agencies, who will then cooperate with INTERPOL’s General Secretariat.
Contact Your Local Authorities
If you do not believe your situation warrants a report to federal or international law enforcement agencies, you can report the sextortion to your local police. They may have a cyber crimes unit with the resources to help you.
The easiest way to contact your local police is to use a search engine to find the address of your nearest precinct office. Call or visit the precinct in person to make a report. For example, residents of Cleveland, Ohio can call (216) 621-1234 to file an online crime report.
How Should You Respond to a Phishing Email?
If you receive a phishing email or other scam attempt in your email inbox, do not open it. Delete it immediately to prevent yourself from accidentally opening it in the future.
Never download any links or attachments you receive from unknown emails, and do not click on links in these emails, either.
You Can Also Report Sextortion to Email Providers
Aside from the above, you can also flag the extortion email to the originating service provider. To learn which service provider to report to, you can check the sender’s email address domain name (such as “gmail.com” or “yahoo.com”).
If you do not recognize the provider, you can search the domain in ICANN Lookup to learn which provider hosts the email address. Reach out to them directly to report the scammer’s activity.
When to Seek Legal Help for Webcam Sextortion
In all sextortion cases, it is essential to act quickly in response—and one of the best choices you can make is reaching out to an attorney who can be a fierce advocate and resource.
Below, we cover the benefits of having an experienced legal team on your side.
At What Point Should You Seek Legal Help for Webcam Sextortion?
The sooner you seek legal help to confront the sextortionist, the better. Do not wait until after you have already sent money to the scammer.
You can also seek help at any time of the day or night; many law enforcement agencies are open 24-7. And Minc Law also offers after-hours consultations for emergencies like yours.
In most sextortion matters, you should immediately reach out to an experienced internet defamation and content removal attorney.
How Can Legal Services Help Victims of Webcam Sextortion?
In sextortion cases, legal remedies may be limited—but legal advice can be indispensable. Experienced attorneys can give you objective advice on the best legal strategy for dealing with your sextortion case quickly and effectively.
They can help you identify anonymous harassers, take over communication with the scammer, and remove posted content in the event the scammer acts on their threats. Many internet attorneys also offer online reputation management services to help monitor the internet for continued threats to your reputation.
Since many sextortionists operate across international borders, it can be difficult for law enforcement agencies to bring perpetrators to justice. And contacting law enforcement also comes with the risk of potentially creating a public record of an incident you might want to keep private. In these circumstances, it may be best to consult an attorney before reaching out to law enforcement—especially if money or potential unlawful behavior was involved.
Legal teams that are experienced in internet sextortion cases can advise you on the options, costs, and risks involved in your case. They also provide content and resources that provide guidance on handling online sextortion.
What Additional Resources Are There Out There for Sextortion Victims?
If you are the victim of a webcam sextortion attempt, you can also turn to these resources for guidance and support in dealing with the scammer:
- Revenge Porn Helpline: A service based in the United Kingdom that provides content removal services and support for adult revenge porn victims;
- Samaritans: A judgment-free call line for those experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm;
- Crash Override: A crisis helpline, resource center, and advocacy group for victims of online abuse;
- Get Safe Online: A resource hub for online safety, including using social media, banking sites, and doing online shopping;
- Thinkuknow: An organization based in the U.K. informing readers on how to protect children from online harassment;
- HeartMob: A support network for online harassment victims;
- Cyber Civil Rights Initiative: A resource and crisis helpline for cyber harassment victims;
- Attorney General’s Cyber Exploitation Task Force: A resource from the California Department of Justice containing resources for law enforcement and victims of cyber exploitation;
- PAPYRUS: A U.K.-based call line for those experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm; and
- Without My Consent (WMC): Information for victims, attorneys, advocates, and law enforcement regarding digital privacy and free speech.
We Can Help You With Webcam Sextortion & Blackmail
If you are the target of webcam sextortion or blackmail, it can be extremely stressful and confusing to know who to contact or how to respond.
At Minc Law, we have extensive experience handling communications with perpetrators on popular social media and dating sites, applications, and platforms. We know how to effectively resolve this highly distressing situation without drawing unwanted attention to it.
(216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat representative, or filling out our online contact form.
“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.”
Aug 19, 2022
We offer paid sextortion consults with an experienced Minc Law sextortion attorney for $500. If you would like to explore your options for responding to webcam sextortion, schedule a consultation with us today by calling (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat representative, or filling out our online contact form.
Federal Bureau of Investigation, San Francisco Office. FBI San Francisco Warns of Increase in Sextortion Schemes Targeting Young Boys (2022).