Dealing with webcam blackmail (sextortion)

Webcam blackmail - also called sextortion - is where criminals use fake identities to befriend victims online before persuading them to perform sexual acts in front of their webcam. These webcam calls are then recorded and the criminals threaten to share them online unless they receive payment. Professional criminal gangs target men and women across all age ranges. They often target those with the ability to pay and who would have a lot to lose if the video is shared.

Remember that you're probably the victim of organised criminals - you're not alone and confidential support is available. You can get through this.

If you have an email saying that a video has been taken of you via your webcam it may just be a phishing email. See our Phishing Guide.

Webcam blackmail - Do this first!

The following is advice is in line with the National Crime Agency:

  1. 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. You should also report this to your internet service provider who will be able to preserve any evidence they have relating to the communications from the criminals and to the provider the recorded call was made on.

  2. Cut communications - Don’t communicate further with the criminals.

  3. Don’t pay - Many victims who have paid have continued to get more demands for higher amounts of money. In some cases, even when the demands have been met the offenders will still go on to post the explicit videos. 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.

  4. 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 webcam blackmail

  1. Report and work with the police - It is often criminal gangs behind this type of crime and the consequences of the video being shared can be big. 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.

  2. Limit the ability of the criminals 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.

  3. Get the video taken down & limit chance of being shared again - If the video is online use the online reporting process to report the matter to website. They will take it down and set up an alert in case the video resurfaces.

  4. Consider warning connections against viewing content - The criminals are likely to threaten to share the video with your friends and family if you don’t pay. 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.

  5. 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).

  6. Pay the ransom - Our strong advice is not to pay. You may consider paying the ransom to take the risk that the criminals are true to their word and move on to another target. Be very careful here, as above as soon you give money the chances are you are asked for more. If you do decide to pay then ensure you track the payment details and keep all evidence you can. If you have paid the ransom, but have been asked for more money or to do more in front of a webcam then contact the police immediately.

How do I avoid a webcam blackmail scam in future?

  1. Trust your gut -  Feel too good to be true? It probably is. If you feel something is wrong and you are being asked to do things you are uncomfortable with then put an end to the conversation immediately and seek advice.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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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