Extortion and blackmail are age-old crimes that have persisted because people tend to give in to these threats. Back in the day, extortion and blackmail would be done in person, over letters, or the phone, but has since evolved to adapt modern technology through the use of instant message, email, and social media sites and applications. As such, it’s essential to know what to do if you’re a target of online extortion or blackmail.
Extortion VS Blackmail
Before we get into it, it’s essential to know the difference between blackmail and extortion, as both are sometimes used interchangeably. However, it’s essential to know how to distinguish the two to better describe your situation to the authorities and your lawyer. Extortion is the illegal practice where one obtains money, services, or property from a party through coercion. Any form of extortion that’s done online is referred to as ‘cyberextortion’.
Blackmail, on the other hand, can be seen as a subset or subtype of extortion wherein one threatens to publicize or release humiliating or scandalous information or other media unless a ransom (in the form of money, services, or property) is paid. So, what do you do if you’re a target of online blackmail or extortion?
Step 1: Collect and Keep Evidence
Don’t delete anything you should keep screenshots or backups of the extortion. Anything sent to you should be treated as evidence that you can use when reporting the threat to the authorities and your lawyer. It’s also important that you don’t delete your social media account or email address since these messages need to be authenticated or revisited. You have to know that simple screenshots aren’t enough as they can easily be altered and that there are standards to digital evidence. Law firms and e-Discovery professionals use software that complies with authenticity standards which collect and preserve old website archives of the online extortion or blackmail messages to be used as evidence.
Step 2: Don’t Give In
No matter how big or small the threat is, never give in to their demands and don’t respond. These scammers and criminals would start baiting you by asking for small amounts, and once you give in, they will continuously extort or blackmail you into giving bigger amounts. So never do what they ask and don’t continue the conversation. Subsequently, this also means that you should never negotiate; if they see that you start negotiating, it means that they’ve successfully baited you in and that you’re willing to pay.
Step 3: Never Hesitate to Get Help
You do have the option to ignore it and hope that it would go away. But sometimes, the threat can be grave and ‘tangible’. As such, it’s best to get help by contacting the authorities and your lawyer. However, one reason why extortion and blackmail work is that they capitalize on shame and fear, which often prevent people from getting help and eventually make them give in to the demands. Sometimes, the blackmail material they have is regarding you doing something that’s also illegal. If you’re afraid or ashamed, you can try talking to someone close to help you through reporting the issue to the authority, or you can speak to your lawyer to know your options and to professional guide you through this ordeal.
Online blackmail and cyberextortion can be a tricky, frightening, and stressful situation. But it’s important that you follow these steps and ensure that you don’t remove evidence, don’t give in, and get the help you need.