Extortion Scams

These scams can have devastating impacts your mental and financial wellbeing, but you are not alone. Learn how to recognize, report and recover from extortion scams.

Step 1:Recognize

Red Flags of an Extortion Scam

If you receive a message from someone threatening you unless you adhere to their demands, there are some red flags to look for that may indicate that it’s an extortion scam, such as:

  • The message is full of threats and ultimatums.
  • The threat includes grammatical and spelling errors.
  • You are given a short amount of time to comply to their demands.
  • They demand payment, often in the form of Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency.
  • Their message includes high-pressure tactics. They want you to act quickly and not think about their demands.

Step 2:Immediate Actions

If you think you may have been a victim of an extortion scam, it is important to take action right away to protect yourself and your finances. Here are some steps to take if you think you have been scammed:

  • Keep all documentation related to the scam, including any emails, messages or receipts. This will be helpful when you file a police report.
  • File a police report with your local law enforcement agency.
  • Report the incident to the website or app where the scammer contacted you.
  • If you provided financial information, like your credit card number or bank account information, contact your bank or credit card company right away. They may be able to help you cancel the transaction or get your money back.
  • If you paid using gift cards or a wire transfer, contact the issuer. They might be able to help you stop the transaction.
  • If you provided personal information, like your Social Security number, you may be at risk for identity theft. Contact your bank or credit card company to make them aware. Then, contact the three major credit reporting agencies – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax – and place a fraud alert on your credit reports. This will make it harder for the scammer to open new accounts in your name.
  • Consider seeking counseling or therapy if necessary. It’s important to take care of yourself emotionally and mentally.

Step 3:Report

Reporting any type of cybercrime, including extortion scams, is imperative to help others avoid being scammed. As a society, the more people that report online scams and fraud, the more national reporting data that is collected, and the better chance law enforcement has to catch the criminals and decrease cybercrime.

Step 4:Recover

Learn the Three Golden Rules to Spot a Scam

Scammers often utilize tactics to encourage you to act quickly and will use false information to persuade you to send money or personally identifiable information (PII). When faced with a questionable situation online, always follow the three golden rules to spot a scam:

Slow it down — Don’t panic and immediately give in to demands. In most cases, the scammer wants money as soon as possible and will move on if you don’t respond right away. Reach out to a trusted family member or friend for support.

Spot check — Take some time to research the situation and understand what you’re dealing with. Consider whether or not the demand is realistic and whether or not paying would be in your best interest.

Stop! Don’t send — Don’t give in to demands in hopes that the scammer will go away. This will only confirm that you’re a viable target and make you more likely to be targeted in the future.

Take 5 Steps for Better Online Security

Along with making sure you follow the three golden rules to spot a scam, it’s important to strengthen your online security to help avoid all types of online scams. Take action to improve your digital posture by following these steps:

  1. Implement Multi Factor Authentication (MFA): Passwords are generally easy for scammers to crack, and even if you use strong passphrases, there’s still the possibility that a cybercriminal can obtain your passphrase in a data breach. Implementing MFA is a great way to maximize your security and ensure that you are the only one who can gain access to your accounts. MFA should be implemented on all accounts where it is available. Check your account’s security settings to see if it is something you can set up.
  2. Update Your Privacy Settings: Privacy settings allow you to control your personal information (name, address, phone number, date of birth, financial details, photos or videos, etc) and how that information is used. Review your privacy settings on all of your accounts including your social media accounts. Consider restricting who can see your friends list, contacts, photos and posts.
  3. Activate Automatic Updates: Automatic updates are a set of changes to an app, software or operating system that are automatically pushed by the developer to fix or improve it. Oftentimes, cybercriminals take advantage of security flaws to plant malicious software on your devices. By activating automatic updates, you will automatically patch security vulnerabilities to protect your data.
  4. Create Strong Passphrases: A strong passphrase is a string of unrelated words separated by hyphen, space, period, capitalized first letter or number. Use passphrases that are longer than 15 characters and include multiple words that do not have any obvious connection between them. The key to passphrases is randomness. Don’t repeat your passphrases between accounts and consider using a password manager to help you remember.
  5. Learn the Elements of a Phishing Attempt: Familiarize yourself with the elements of a phishing email. Phishing emails tend to include a sense of urgency and multiple grammar and spelling errors. If they are asking you to reveal personal information, be suspicious. If you get a strange email, try contacting the company another way to confirm they sent that email. If the email is suspicious, mark it as spam.

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