Scammers use online extortion

Scammers use online extortion

Better Business Bureau is warning the public about sextortion emails from scammers trying to blackmail recipients into giving them money. Sextortion emails typically include threats to reveal images and videos of the victim watching or utilizing pornography, copies of their browser history or evidence they downloaded videos from pornographic sites. BBBs nationwide received 32 reports of this scam in April 2020.

The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center also recently reported an uptick in online extortion scams during the stay-at-home orders issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic. With more people staying at home and likely using their phone, computer or tablet, con artists are using this opportunity to their advantage in hopes of getting money from you.

The scammers will contact anyone, whether or not they’ve actually visited pornographic sites. They claim to have hacked your computer, activated your webcam and videoed you while you watched pornography. They tell you they have been able to access all the pornographic websites you have visited and threaten to send embarrassing images, videos and screen shots to stolen contacts, family, friends and co-workers if a payment is not made.

Generally speaking, the threat is likely an empty one because the blackmail message usually doesn’t have enough personal information to make their scheme plausible. However, there are some cases where the victims are specifically targeted because their data was compromised in a major security breach some time ago.

In those situations the scammer may have your email, telephone number and at least one password and will refer to it in the email. By using real information, the scammer’s email sounds more threatening and convincing. Recent submissions to BBB Scam Tracker state the criminals want to be paid in bitcoin, a virtual currency that is very difficult to trace.

A consumer in Wheeling, West Virginia recently reported to BBB she’d received three emails in just four days demanding what would be converted to $28,000 in bitcoins.

“They used what they thought was one of my passwords in the subject line and threatened to send videos to all my contacts of me in a compromised activity. They also accused me of visiting porn sites. I assure you the video is fake, and I have never gone to a porn site,” she told BBB.

She did not pay any money.

Another consumer from Alliance, Ohio forwarded her email to BBB with a similar scenario. She said, “Interestingly I have an iPhone but no computer, WiFi or internet.”

The two emails were similar in nature; however, the amount of the second email was for $2,000 in bitcoin.

Unfortunately some victims have reported paying the requested amount for their peace of mind, so hackers are getting bolder and smarter because of this. Everyone is at risk of getting a sextortion email. Threatening the release of embarrassing footage that could negatively impact one’s personal and professional reputation can trigger the need for self-preservation, even if it comes at a cost of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Scammers will happily play on a person’s emotions to trick them out of their money, and this is why it is important you assess the situation and not just give your money away in a panic.

The scammer does not provide any details about what site you supposedly visited. The scammer cannot support their threat with any evidence: for example, a compromising screen shot to prove they have the information they claim. The scammer requests an urgent ransom be paid in gift cards, bitcoins or wire transfer. Other red flags include grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and a window of time in which to pay up.

Try searching the web for one or two sentences from the email to confirm it is actually spam. No matter what the email threatens, do not respond. Also delete the email. Do not open attachments or click links in emails from people you do not know. Doing so could lead you to a fake website designed to trick you into giving up personal information, or you may download malware to your computer or mobile device.

Never send money, buy a gift card or do anything to comply with the demands in the email. Do a security check on your computer and install security software. Enable two-factor authentication on your important accounts.

Change passwords often and consider getting a password manager to ensure your passwords are strong and unique. Avoid using “password,” “Password123,” “12345” and other most commonly used passwords. To give you peace of mind, keep webcams covered when you are not using them.

All victims of a scam should report it on You also may contact the FBI Internet Complaint Center at

Visit or call 330-454-9401 to look up a business, file a complaint, write a customer review, read tips, follow on social media and more.

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