Dealing with content for ransom
Content for ransom is when someone uses information - like secrets, documents, communications, pictures or videos - to make somebody do something against their will. They may want money, sexual favours, to continue an unwanted relationship or just generally be in control. They threaten to share the information if they don’t get what they want.
The perpetrator may be someone you know or a complete stranger who has gained access to the content. Either way if you feel there is a threat to your safety call 999 immediately. If the perpetrator is someone you know who has a history of domestic abuse it is best to seek professional advice and have a safety plan in place before you take the actions we describe below.
If an explicit video has been made of you via a webcam and you are being asked to pay money go here.
Content for ransom - Do this first!
The following is advice is inline with the National Crime Agency:
Report it - Contact your local police station. The police will take your case seriously, will deal with it in confidence and will not judge you for being in this situation. If you are under 18 them report this to CEOP. If the communication has been online you should also report this to your internet service provider who will be able to preserve any evidence they have relating to the communications.
Cut communications - don’t communicate further with the perpetrator. This may be difficult if you are in close contact with the perpetrator on a daily basis. See above about seeking professional advice if you need support getting out of an abusive relationship.
Don’t give them what they want - Many victims who have paid have continued to get more demands for higher amounts of money or further non-financial requests. In some cases, even when the demands have been met the offenders will still go on to post the explicit videos or share the other forms of content. If you have already paid, check to see if the money has been collected. If it has, and if you are able, then make a note of where it was collected from. If it hasn't, then you can cancel the payment - and the sooner you do that the better.
Preserve evidence - Take screen shots of all your communication. Make a note of all details provided by the offenders, for example; the Skype name (particularly the Skype ID), the Facebook URL; the Western Union or MoneyGram Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN); the virtual currency payment details; any photos/videos that were sent, etc. Be aware that the scammer's Skype name is different to their Skype ID, and it's the ID details that police will need. To get that, right click on their profile, select ‘View Profile’ and then look for the name shown in blue rather than the one above it in black. It'll be next to the word ’Skype’ and will have no spaces in it. DO NOT DELETE ANY CORRESPONDENCE.
Approaches to dealing with content for ransom
Each situation is different and if you know the individual there may be a number of added complexities.
Report and work with the police - The best approach is to follow the advice above and report it to the police who have a tried and tested methodology for dealing with this type of crime.
Limit the ability of the perpetrator to contact you and share on your Facebook page - Suspend your Facebook account (but don’t delete it). Deactivating the Facebook account temporarily rather than shutting it down will mean the data is preserved and will help police to collect evidence. The account can also be reactivated at any time so your online memories are not lost forever. Also, keep an eye on all the accounts which you might have linked in case the criminals try to contact you via one of those. Consider similar approach with other social media sites you use.
Get the information taken down & limit chance of being shared again - if the content is shared online use the online reporting process to report the matter to website that is hosting it. They will take it down and set up an alert in case the content resurfaces.
Consider warning connections against viewing content - the criminals are likely to threaten to share the content with your friends and family if you don’t do what they want. Follow the advice of the police, but you may want to warn those close to you to avoid any nasty surprises. Some have sent a message to their contacts saying they have been hacked adding that they shouldn’t click on any content shared with them that mentions you in case it causes them any harm.
Support the victim - if the victim is one of your children, a partner or a friend then providing support is critical. Try to stay calm and not overreact. Reassure them that this has happened to others and they are dealing with professional criminals. If the video is online then get them to avoid looking at the video and the associated comments. If you are the victim seek support from someone close or from a specialist organisations (see list here).
How do I stop this happening again?
Share information on a need to know basis - If there is sensitive information about you or you have that could be used to blackmail you then only share this information with people you know, trust and need to know.
Avoid situations where you remove clothes or perform sexual acts online - this can include in front of a webcam, digital camera or smartphone. The minute that information goes online or comes into someone else’s possession you immediately lose control of it.
Be careful who you connect to on social media or dating sites - Do not accept friend requests from complete strangers and be incredibly wary of direct messages from strangers. Use a different email address on dating sites and make sure the email address doesn’t give away any personal details such as your full name.
Think about your online privacy & security - make sure that you share very little information about you online such as address and contact details. Review your social media profiles and remove anything that can be used against you. Ensure you have strong security in place on your online accounts.
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