With an estimated 2 billion-plus users worldwide and 100 billion messages exchanged per day, WhatsApp is by far the most popular messaging app. As a result, WhatsApp extortion is on the rise and has become a horrifying reality for tens of thousands of men and women each year.
If you are a victim of extortion on WhatsApp, there are several effective steps you can take to mitigate the potential damage and combat this serious cybercrime.
- Do not panic,
- Cease engaging with the extortionist and do not pay them,
- Preserve all communications with the extortionist,
- Maximize privacy restrictions on all social media accounts,
- Report the extortionist to WhatsApp by opening the chat with the extortionist, tapping ‘More Options’ and ‘Report and Block’.
- Report the extortion to the Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3) and your local authorities,
- Consult with an online extortion attorney to explore options to put an end to the abuse.
At Minc Law, we have extensive experience dealing with extortionists, and we can help you create an effective response and monitoring plan. We can also help you identify the perpetrator, handle communication with them, and put an end to the threats as quickly as possible.
In this article, we will discuss common forms of WhatsApp extortion, as well as signs to help you identify potential threats. Then we will cover ways to report and respond to online extortion threats.
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Forms of Extortion That Are Common on WhatsApp
WhatsApp is a popular messaging app that is used by billions of people around the world. However, it has also become a tool for criminals to commit extortion. And there are several forms of extortion that take place on the app.
What is the Legal Definition of Online Extortion?
Online extortion is the criminal act of using or threatening to use the internet to extort money or other goods from a person. In most cases, the extortionist will demand payment in exchange for not releasing damaging information about the victim online. This could include sensitive personal information, such as photos or videos, or financial information.
Online extortion can also take the form of threats to release viruses or launch cyberattacks unless the victim meets the demands of the extortionist.
Regardless of the form extortion takes, it is a serious crime that is considered a felony in all states. And when it occurs online or through any method of interstate commerce, it becomes a federal crime.
What is the Difference Between Extortion & Blackmail?
The terms “extortion” and “blackmail” are often used interchangeably. Blackmail and extortion both involve making threats against someone to obtain something of value. Typically, both crimes are classified as a form of theft or larceny.
In many states, the crime of blackmail is considered a subset of extortion. Generally speaking, extortion involves coercing someone to pay or perform a specific act through threats of physical harm or injury. The perpetrator may also threaten to reveal damaging information about the victim that would damage the victim’s reputation.
Specifically, blackmail is a form of extortion where the threats involve revealing damaging private information.
What Are Some Examples of Online Extortion?
Sextortion (Sexual Extortion)
Sextortion is a type of online extortion in which someone threatens to release explicit images or videos of the victim in exchange for some kind of ransom. The ransom demanded by the extortionist may be money, bitcoin, or sexual favors.
This form of extortion can cause severe mental anguish for victims, who often feel embarrassed, ashamed, and alone. Many victims will make a payment in an attempt to make the problem go away, but this usually only leads to further demands from the extortionist.
Email extortion is a rapidly growing type of internet scam in which the perpetrator attempts to extort money from the victim by claiming to have compromising information or material. The scam artists may appear legitimate because they will often reveal a password used by their victim. However, they typically uncover the password through a large-scale data breach and not by successfully hacking their victim.
Additionally, email extortionists may threaten to release embarrassing or damaging material to the victim’s contacts unless payment is made, usually in bitcoin or another popular cryptocurrency. They may even claim to have “hacked” into the victim’s computer or webcam and recorded unsavory activity.
This type of scam is particularly effective against less savvy internet users, such as minors, seniors, and other vulnerable groups.
Social Media & Dating App Extortion
Sextortion scams are rampant on social media and dating platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Grindr, and Tinder. These platforms often provide ample opportunity to extort others because their users can chat via webcam and send photographs – making it a breeding ground for sextortionists.
More often than not, extortionists will create fake profiles on dating and social networking sites and initiate the conversation with their victims. Then they attempt to move the conversation to video platforms like Skype, Zoom, or WhatsApp, where they manipulate their victim into sharing explicit photos or videos.
Once they obtain compromising content, they threaten to release the content to the victim’s friends and family unless the victim meets their demands.
Threats of Defamation
Defamation is a false statement about an individual or business that is published to a third party and subsequently causes damage to their reputation.
In the digital age, one’s online reputation is crucial. A negative or fake online review can injure a business. And a false allegation against an individual can destroy their personal life or job prospects.
Blackmailers are aware of this and will threaten to spread harmful information – like a slew of negative reviews or allegations of an affair – unless a ransom of some sort is paid.
What Types of Extortion Are Common on WhatsApp?
While WhatsApp extortion is a relatively new phenomenon, it is becoming increasingly common as more people use the messaging app. Sextortion is the most common form of WhatsApp extortion that we have seen.
As mentioned above, extortionists will often make their initial contact with a victim on a social media or dating app and then move the conversation to WhatsApp where their behavior becomes more aggressive or sexual. But other forms of WhatsApp extortion include threats to commit violence, leak sensitive information, or damage property unless a ransom is paid.
There are numerous reasons why extortion is such a problem on WhatsApp. First, it is relatively easy for criminals to create fake accounts and contact potential victims. Second, the platform allows for anonymous communication, which can make it difficult for law enforcement to track down perpetrators. Third, WhatsApp and other messaging apps have a large user base, which gives criminals a wide pool of potential victims.
Finally, many people are not aware of the risks associated with sharing personal information on these platforms, making them more vulnerable to extortion attempts.
How Can I Recognize the Signs of WhatsApp Extortion?
If They Seem Too Good to Be True, They Probably Are
First, be suspicious of any messages that seem too good to be true. If an attractive individual that you do not know messages you randomly, it could be a sign that the individual is trying to scam you.
If you are skeptical of a user, consider conducting reverse image searches for their profile picture or other photos they post. In many of our sextortion cases, the scammer uses photos that they stole from models or other social media accounts.
Their Messages Seem to Be Translated From Another Language
When trying to determine whether or not someone is attempting to extort you via WhatsApp, one key indicator to look for is the language they use.
Many online extortionists are based outside of the U.S. and do not speak English fluently, so if their messages are difficult to understand or seem to be translated or scripted, that could be a sign that you are dealing with a scammer. Moreover, scammers tend to be demanding and forceful with their language in an attempt to manipulate their victims.
Their Messages Are Overtly Sexual or Flirty From the Start
Watch out for messages that are overtly sexual or flirty from the start. These sorts of messages are a red flag, as they may indicate that the person is only interested in scamming you.
They Try to Video Call
Sextortionists try to manipulate their victims by suggesting a video call or a move to another video chat app like Skype or Zoom. During the call, they may promise to expose themselves if you do the same. However, they will actually be recording the call without your knowledge. Once they have the recording they will threaten to release the content unless you pay them money.
Is It Safe to Have Intimate Calls on WhatsApp?
WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption for its users. This means that WhatsApp messages are only visible to the sender and receiver.
However, this does not necessarily mean that WhatsApp is safe for all interactions.
Scam artists, extortionists, and blackmailers have been known to use different recording devices to record intimate images or videos of their victims without their knowledge. As a result, it is important to be careful about who you share intimate messages or images with on WhatsApp. If you are not sure about someone’s trustworthiness, it is best to avoid sharing anything sensitive with them.
How to Report Extortion Scams On WhatsApp
If you receive extortionate threats on WhatsApp, it is important to report them immediately. Not only can this hold the perpetrator accountable for their actions, but it can also prevent others from falling victim to the same scam.
Who Should You Contact If You Are Being Extorted On WhatsApp?
There are several parties you should report WhatsApp extortion to, including WhatsApp, the Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3), and your local authorities.
Report the Account to WhatsApp
First, block and report the contact on WhatsApp by taking the following steps:
- Open WhatsApp, tap More options > Settings.
- Tap Account > Privacy > Blocked contacts.
- Tap Add.
- Search for or select the contact you want to block.
You can also use this alternative method to block a contact:
- Open a chat with the contact, then tap More options > More > Block > BLOCK or REPORT AND BLOCK, which will report and block the number.
- Open a chat with the contact, then tap the name of the contact > Block > BLOCK.
Then report the contact by first opening a chat with the user you wish to report. Next, you will select ‘More options’ > More > Report.
At this stage, you can also check the box if you would like to block the user and delete messages in the chat. Finally, select REPORT.
You can also choose to report a WhatsApp account by long pressing a single message:
- Long press an individual message and tap on the overflow menu.
- The option to report the contact will appear along with a confirmation notification and the option to block.
Report the Account to the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3)
It is also recommended to report the crime to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The IC3 is a program that collects, analyzes, and refers to complaints concerning cybercrime.
Filing a complaint with the IC3 may not yield immediate benefits, but it will help to draw attention to the scam for tracking purposes. It could also lead to the discovery of sophisticated extortion schemes and could help reduce these types of threats over time.
To make an IC3 report, fill out their short online form. The FBI website provides a detailed explanation of how to file a complaint, as well as answers to other common questions.
Report Extortion to Your Local Authorities
Your local authorities may also have a cyber crimes unit available to help you.
The easiest method of contacting your local police department is by using a search engine to find the location of the nearest precinct office. Call or visit the precinct in person to deliver your complaint. Make sure to provide as much information about the crime as possible, including any evidence that you may have saved.
For a complete list of agencies, organizations, and providers to report online extortion, we recommend reading our comprehensive guide ‘How to Report Sextortion’.
Speak With an Experienced Extortion Attorney
If you have been the victim of online extortion, it is important to reach out to an experienced attorney immediately. Waiting until you have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars meeting a criminal’s demands is a mistake – by then, it will be much harder to put a stop to the threats.
At Minc Law, we have extensive experience dealing with online extortionists and scam artists. We use a variety of investigatory tools and legal tactics to put an end to the threats, remove sensitive information if it has been published, identify the extortionists, and monitor the web for future attacks.
Our nationally-recognized reputation means that we are uniquely qualified to deal with online extortion, and we will do everything we can to help you stop the threats and get your life back to normal.
What Happens When You Report an Account or Contact on WhatsApp?
Reporting an account or contact on WhatsApp can have several consequences. First, WhatsApp will receive the last five messages sent to you by the reported user. The reported user or group will not be notified of this report.
Additionally, WhatsApp will receive the reported group or user ID, as well as information on when the message was sent and the type of message sent (e.g., image, video, text message).
Based on this report, WhatsApp may decide to ban the account if they believe the account activity violates their Terms of Service. However, it is important to note that a user report of conduct in violation of WhatsApp’s Terms of Service does not guarantee that the user will be banned or otherwise penalized. This decision is ultimately up to WhatsApp.
What Steps Does WhatsApp Take to Protect You Against Extortion?
WhatsApp enables users to block and report scam artists, but this may not be enough to stop extortion. It is important to speak with law enforcement or an online extortion attorney if you want to explore effective options to put an end to the extortion and prevent future attacks.
Steps Victims Can Take If They Are the Target of Extortion On WhatsApp
If you are the target of extortion on WhatsApp, there are several effective steps you can take to mitigate the potential damage and assist your attorney (should you engage one).
How Do You Prove Someone is Extorting You on WhatsApp
If you believe you are being blackmailed, the first step is to gather evidence. While you may be tempted to delete your previous interactions with the perpetrator, you actually need to be saving and preserving as much evidence as possible.
Start by taking screenshots of any messages and conversations with the extortionist. Then, work to build a timeline of events – from your first contact up to your most recent interaction.
Additionally, make sure to collect as much information about the scammer as you can, including their:
- Account name,
- Profile photo, and
- Email or contact information.
Also, keep receipts if you have sent them any money. The more data and evidence you can provide, the more effectively law enforcement can pursue the scammer.
What Should You Avoid Doing If Someone is Extorting You on WhatsApp
Extortion is a serious crime, and it is important to know what to do – and what not to do – if you find yourself a victim of WhatsApp extortion.
1. Avoid Panicking
While this may be easier said than done, try to resist the urge to panic. When we panic, we act rashly and carelessly – which can make a terrible situation even worse.
2. Avoid Paying the Perpetrator
Do not give in to the scammer’s demands and pay them. This may seem like an obvious one, but it is important to remember that there is no guarantee that the extortionist will follow through on their promise to delete the content once they have been paid. In fact, the opposite usually occurs. The blackmailer will only continue to try to contact you for more money once their initial attempt is successful.
We recommend reading our comprehensive guide answering a common question we receive at Minc Law, ‘do sextortionists follow through?’
3. Avoid Engaging With the Perpetrator Further
Do not reply to the extortionist’s threatening messages. Instead, screenshot all messages and threats as this could become valuable evidence.
4. Avoid Trying to “Get Ahead of the Story”
Many victims of sextortion think they can “get ahead of the story” by informing their friends and family about the compromising content. However, this may be jumping the gun because situations like these can often be resolved before the extortionist ever releases the damaging content.
It is best to avoid sharing any embarrassing information about how you ended up in this position unless it is absolutely necessary.
For a comprehensive guide on what you should steer clear of doing when targeted by extortionists, please read ‘How to Avoid Becoming the Victim of Extortion’.
What Steps Should You Take If You Are Extorted on WhatsApp?
Preserve All Communications With The Extortionist
If you are being extorted online, the first thing you should do is preserve all communications you have had with the perpetrator. Also, screenshot any contact information you have for the user, including screen names or email addresses. And if they have sent you any images, save screenshots of them as well.
Maximize Privacy Restrictions on All Social Media Accounts
Once you have taken steps to preserve evidence, you should maximize the privacy restrictions on all of your social media accounts. If you have any active accounts that you are not using, go ahead and disable them.
If the perpetrator attempts to send you any additional WhatsApp messages, screenshot them as soon as they arrive, so they are not automatically deleted.
Report the Extortionist to WhatsApp & Cybercrime Agencies
The next step is to report the crime to WhatsApp and the IC3 to help prevent the scammer from targeting other unsuspecting victims.
Consult With Law Enforcement or an Online Extortion Attorney
Finally, contact your local law enforcement and an experienced online extortion attorney. They can help you hold the perpetrator accountable and prevent or respond to the release of any damaging content.
Make sure to read our comprehensive guide written by attorney Dorrian Horsey explaining ‘how to deal with blackmail’.
Benefits Of Working With an Online Extortion or Sextortion Attorney
If you are a victim of online extortion, you may be feeling helpless and alone. The good news is that you do not have to deal with this situation on your own. An experienced online extortion lawyer can help you take steps to stop the cyber attack and protect your reputation and finances.
Why is It Important to Work With an Online Extortion Lawyer If You Are Being Extorted Online?
Extortion can be both a criminal and civil offense, so it is important to know that you have options. The best course of action will vary depending on the specifics of your case, so it is in your best interest to consult with an attorney who can advise you on which steps to take.
In general, an extortion attorney can help by:
- Taking control of communications with the perpetrator,
- Crafting an effective response strategy,
- Serving as a confidant and trusted source of advice,
- Identifying anonymous extortionists, and
- Monitoring the internet and removing any explicit content that has been published without your consent.
What Services Does Minc Law Offer to Combat Online Extortion?
Extortion and sextortion are serious crimes that can have devastating consequences for victims. At Minc Law, we understand the sensitive nature of these crimes and work quickly to put an end to online blackmail and protect our clients’ private information.
We may begin by sending cease and desist letters and, in some cases, working with local law enforcement. We then leverage a variety of legal tactics and strategies to compile evidence against the attackers. This evidence can be used to obtain criminal or civil legal recourse under state-specific extortion laws.
Once we have put an end to the extortionate attacks, we monitor the internet to protect our clients against future attacks. With our help, you can move forward with peace of mind.
For further reading, we recommend reading our guide explaining how much an online extortion lawyer costs.
How Can Minc Law Help Victims of WhatsApp Extortion?
If you are being extorted on WhatsApp, it is important to seek help immediately. Extortion is a violation of your rights, and legal professionals can help you deal with the situation.
At Minc Law, we have extensive experience navigating the intricacies of responding to online extortionists, crafting an effective game plan to put an end to the threats, and monitoring the internet for intimate content.
If the extortionist is threatening to post a video or photo of you, we can act swiftly to get the content removed and the offending accounts suspended – all without drawing unwanted attention to the content.
“I highly recommend the Minc Law firm. Not only were they knowledgeable, professional and timely in resolving my matter, but they were a pleasure to work with. Dan, Darcy and Melanie thank you for everything! My only regret was not engaging the firm earlier.”
Oct 4, 2021
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