It’s seems like these days every way you turn someone is trying to scam you, especially online. But the latest blackmail scams aren’t necessarily online. The first one comes right to your mailbox.
1. The Bitcoin Blackmail Scheme
A new scam targets men by playing on their guilty consciences. In a letter that arrives at your home, someone claims to know that you’ve been cheating on your wife. The letter writer then threatens to reveal your infidelity to your wife and friends.
Even if you’ve never been unfaithful to your wife — or don’t have a wife at all — the blackmailer will accuse you of this misdeed and threaten to tell your significant other.
In exchange for his silence, the blackmailer then demands anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000 in bitcoin. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “bitcoin” refers to a new type of digital currency that’s very hard to trace because it’s not managed by traditional banks. Instead, the money moves online through a worldwide virtual accounting system. The scammer will even give you step-by-step instructions on how to use bitcoin if you don’t already know.
Whatever you do, don’t pay the ransom. Instead report the letter to the police and file a complaint with the FBI. That way law enforcement can track the criminals. The good news is that you’re not being targeted. Hundreds of these letters go out at a time, mostly to affluent neighborhoods.
If you’re feeling frisky, be careful to whom you send intimate photos or participate in video cam sessions. The “sextortionist” will want to “get naughty” on cam right away or exchange explicit photos. Without your knowledge, they’ll record the session and then threaten to send the session or photos to your friends and family unless you pay up. And because so many people have a public list of friends list on Facebook and other social media, the (s)cammer can easily carry out the threat.
So, if you plan to engage in risky online behavior, at least lock down your Facebook profile. If your account is private, would-be blackmailers don’t have access to your friends list or other personal information.
3. Underage Blackmail Scam
In a twist on the usual sextortion scam, after you exchange explicit photos with the scammer, a fake mother or father will contact you and claim you’ve been exchanging inappropriate material with a minor. They’ll demand money for “therapy” and other damages to their “child” in exchange for them not going to the cops. They might even pretend to be law enforcement and demand money in exchange for not arresting you.
How to Fight Back
In addition to the tips already listed, watchdog organizations like ScamNet recommend the following procedures:
- Don’t send money. If you do, they’ll just keep asking for more. Break off contact immediately if you’re threatened and fight back.
- Take screenshots of all social media accounts and contact information (Skype ID, phone numbers, etc.).
- Make copies of threatening letters.
- Save all incriminating communications offline, such as emails and chat sessions.
- Block the scammer on every device and platform.
- Deactivate your Facebook account for two weeks. Change your username and make sure you don’t “friend” anyone you don’t actually know.
- If the blackmailer has an explicit video, search YouTube for your full name in quotes. They often name these videos “John Smith scandal” or “John Smith <explicit sex act>.” If you find the video, flag it as inappropriate so that YouTube can take it down.
- Report everything to the police and the FBI.
- Protect your online data.
Protection is Prevention
The trick to avoiding blackmail scams is to be proactive about knowing who you’re interacting with on- and offline. Remember that anyone can fall for blackmail scams, no matter how educated or savvy they might be.
Reverse search photos. Scammers tend to steal photos from others, and they almost always have maybe only one photo of themselves. So, run a search on Tin Eye or Google Image Search to see if the photo is stolen.
Run a reverse phone lookup. If you manage to get a phone number from this person, run a reverse phone lookup to see who really owns the number.
Search their email address or username in public records. Run a person search on a public record database to uncover other social media profiles. You might be shocked to find they own numerous accounts.
We all make mistakes, but try to minimize who makes money from them.