Threats & Extortion

Threats & Extortion In Depth

Sections on this page
  1. Common Scams Involving Threats and Extortion
  2. Red Flags of Threats and Extortion
  3. How to Beat Threats and Extortion
  4. Fallen Victim to a Threat or Extortion?

Sometimes scammers try to hook you with the promise of winning money and prizes. Unfortunately, they also do the opposite, using threats and intimidation, which can be even more effective.  

In a recent report by the FBI, threat and cyber extortion scams were the third most common types of online fraud in the United States. These attacks attempt to take advantage of people of all ages, seeking to scare them into providing money or login credentials.

Threats and extortion come in a variety of forms. But the intended result is always the same—to quickly intimidate a victim, get money or steal sensitive information, and then disappear. While these attackers can be elusive, there's a lot you can do to protect yourself, especially when you know how this kind of fraud works, red flags to look out for, and how to beat these scammers.

Common Scams Involving Threats and Extortion

Threats and extortion scams seek to pressure people into paying money or providing sensitive information. Cybercriminals use one or multiple threats to get the target to make an emotional decision.

Threats and extortion scams have been very successful in recent years. For example, the state of Montana alone had 186 victims of extortion in one year, with victims paying, on average, $2,221 per account.

The most common forms of threats and cyber extortion are communications that appear to be from legitimate organizations and those that threaten to expose images or videos of a sexual nature, also referred to as sexploitation.

Scammers Tricks 

  1. They send you a message claiming that they have accessed your files or other personal information. 
  2. They threaten to release the information if you don't pay them cryptocurrency.

Sextortion and Blackmail

A sextortion attack typically begins with an email from the attacker saying they have footage of you in a compromising position. It could be anything from videos of you doing sexual things online, a list of your browsing history featuring visits to pornographic sites, to explicit photos.

The criminal will say they're going to publish the content online if you don't pay them a fee, often using cryptocurrency since it's impossible to track. They don't have anything on you in most cases, and they're simply after your money.

Sextortion can even target young children. 

Imposters

Scams where the attacker pretends to be from a legitimate company or government agency work like this:

  • The attacker collects details about the company/agency online, using them to craft a convincing email or make them sound legitimate over the phone.
  • They claim you owe their organization money, and you face severe penalties, such as legal action or even arrest.
  • They ask you to make payment via a method that's hard to trace, such as with a gift card, store card, or cryptocurrency.
  • Once you pay, they disappear.

In some cases, they may ask you for identity or account information during the attack. Even though you don't pay them money, they can still profit from selling this to someone else or using it to steal your identity.

It's common for these scammers to impersonate:

Targeting Immigrants

At times, a scammer may try to take advantage of someone from another country, telling them they will be deported unless they follow specific instructions. The instructions will likely include a payment request, but they may also ask for contact information, passwords, or user credentials.

Cyber Extortion

Cyber extortion is where a hacker or group of hackers hold a company's data, systems, or private information (like customer details) for ransom until they are paid. These attacks use ransomware, typically sent out via links in phishing emails to employees.

When someone clicks on the link, the hackers access company systems and infect them with viruses.

There are two main types of ransomware:

  • Locker: Locks users out of their accounts until a ransom is paid
  • Crypto: Encrypts data on a company's servers, and hackers hold a key that they won't release until a ransom is paid.

Sometimes if they have managed to steal sensitive information like credit card details, they threaten to release it online. This kind of extortion is large-scale—payment demands can be in the millions of dollars.

Red Flags of Threats and Extortion

In many cases, a threat or extortion scam is relatively easy to spot, mainly because of how the attacker tries to leverage fear during the interaction. For example, any time you get a phone call, email, or text that says something terrible will happen if you don't pay money, it may be a scam. This includes communications that seem to be from legitimate businesses you've dealt with in the past.

Threats to Expose Information or Files

If you ever get an email that threatens to expose your online photos, videos, or history if you don't pay them, you should assume it is a scam. In many cases, they may not even have any of this information—they often send out a blanket email to several different people, hoping one or a few would take the bait.

Threats From a Company or Government Agency

Another red flag is if you get a call, email, or text message that appears to be from a company, the police, or a government official or agency, saying you'll have to pay a hefty fine if you don't pay a smaller amount right away. Again, this is typically a scam. In all cases, you can reach out to the actual company or agency the person claims to represent to verify the legitimacy of what they're saying.

Unsolicited Calls from Law Enforcement/Government Requesting Money

If someone from law enforcement or a government department calls you requesting money, it's likely a scam. For example, if you owe money to the IRS, they will send you a letter with information—they won't call you and tell you to pay up.

Additionally, law enforcement will never call you asking for payment to get you out of an arrest warrant. If you have an arrest warrant, they will just come and arrest you—they won't call you to give you an out.

Requests for Payment via Unconventional Methods

If the person you're speaking to requests payment via any of the following methods, it's likely a scam:

  • Cryptocurrency
  • Wire transfer (e.g., MoneyGram)
  • Gift cards

Scammers only want you to pay using methods that can't be traced back to them and can't be reversed.

How to Beat Threats and Extortion

To beat threats and cyber extortion attacks, remember these tips:

  • Ask for the person's name and tell them you'll call back. Then, call them back using the company/department number you find online and ask to be transferred to them.
  • Never provide any payment or information to someone who claims something terrible may happen if you don't.
  • Don't believe calls from law enforcement (e.g., the FBI) claiming you risk being arrested unless you pay money.
  • Don't believe anyone who asks for payment via non-conventional methods.
  • Even if it seems like you're dealing with a legitimate collection agency or government organization, do not provide any info or payment unless you can verify the legitimacy of the call or email.
  • Keep all your files safe by using a virtual private network, anti-virus software, and anti-malware software.
  • Don't click on any links or open any email attachments unless you can verify it is from a safe sender.
  • Don't use public WiFi when accessing sensitive information or files.
NordVPN
NordVPN
  • Malware and adware blockers.
  • Secure 6 devices at once.
  • 30-day money-back guarantee.

Advanced security features.
Protects against phishing and malware attacks.
Surfshark
Surfshark
  • Military-grade encryption.
  • Protection for unlimited devices.
  • Allow specific sites to bypass VPN.

Great for families.
Connect unlimited devices simultaneously.
Express VPN
Express VPN
  • Find the fastest server in your location.
  • Use on up to 5 devices.
  • Robust data encryption.

Best for streaming.
Unlock all major streaming services.
30-Day Free Trial

Fallen Victim to a Threat or Extortion?

If you've fallen victim to a threat or extortion scam, you should report it to:

  • The FBI
  • The company or government agency they were impersonating
  • Your local police

If you've sent money to someone using a cryptocurrency exchange or a gift or store card, you may be able to prevent the payment from going through before they claim the funds. Contact the card-issuing company or the crypto exchange and explain the situation. However, in most cases, the scammer will claim the money immediately, so you don't have time to reverse it.

Scams Relating to Threats & Extortion

Sort by:
How to Beat Bitcoin Blackmail Emails & Protect Yourself

How to Beat Bitcoin Blackmail Emails & Protect Yourself

If a hacker is blackmailing you to get bitcoin, it can be hard to figure out if it's an empty threat or a real one.

Scams in Other Categories...
The Real Cost of Publishers Clearing House Scam Calls

The Real Cost of Publishers Clearing House Scam Calls

Fabulous wealth and life-changing prizes aren't always what's to be expected after receiving a call from PCH—it could just be a scam to steal your information and money.

FedEx Text Scam: Fake Delivery Alerts & Notifications
23 September 2022 |

FedEx Text Scam: Fake Delivery Alerts & Notifications

FedEx is warning customers of a fake text alert going around regarding an issue with a delivery. Learn how to avoid this tricky scam.

Real Chase Fraud Text Alert or Scam Message?
6 September 2022 |

Real Chase Fraud Text Alert or Scam Message?

If you receive a text message from Chase Bank, don't click on any links or call the phone number listed—it could be a scam designed to steal your information and money.

Truist Text Alert: How to Identify a Real Text from a Scam
6 September 2022 |

Truist Text Alert: How to Identify a Real Text from a Scam

You may think that that Truist have sent you a text alert about your account. Here's how to check if it is actually a scam.

Free Netflix for a Year: Don't Believe the Hype, It's a Scam
29 August 2022 |

Free Netflix for a Year: Don't Believe the Hype, It's a Scam

Netflix has never offered a free subscription for an entire year. If you receive this offer from "Netflix," it's a scam.

Received an Amazon OTP Text? It Could Be a Scam
16 August 2022 |

Received an Amazon OTP Text? It Could Be a Scam

If you received an Amazon OTP text message out of the blue, it could be a sign that someone else is trying to log into your account.

How to Beat Airbnb Payment Scams That Can Leave You Stranded
11 July 2022 |

How to Beat Airbnb Payment Scams That Can Leave You Stranded

When booking your next travel destination via Airbnb, be sure to always pay using the site's online system, or you could be scammed out of your money.

Free PayPal Money Scams: Don't Believe the Hype, It's a Scam
8 July 2022 |

Free PayPal Money Scams: Don't Believe the Hype, It's a Scam

Multiple free money scams that easily fall under the “too good to be true” scams that target loyal PayPal users with promises of free PayPal money.

Guides Relating to Threats & Extortion

Sort by:
Guides in Other Categories...
Beat eBay Scams and Stay Safe When Shopping Online

Beat eBay Scams and Stay Safe When Shopping Online

Whether it's a counterfeit product, a sketchy seller, or a price too good to be true, eBay scams are widespread, so it's important to know how to protect yourself.

How to Claim Free Grubhub Delivery for a Year with Amazon Prime

How to Claim Free Grubhub Delivery for a Year with Amazon Prime

Amazon's acquisition of 2% of Just Eat Takeaway is good news for Amazon Prime subscribers—free food delivery from Grubhub is just a few clicks away.

Cars with Cheap Insurance: Lower Your Monthly Costs
6 July 2022 |

Cars with Cheap Insurance: Lower Your Monthly Costs

In the market for a new car? The cost of the vehicle itself isn't the only thing you want to consider. If you want to keep your costs down, get a car with low car insurance rates.

How Beat Amazon Scams and Stay Safe When Shopping Online
6 July 2022 |

How Beat Amazon Scams and Stay Safe When Shopping Online

With Amazon being the largest online retailer worldwide, it's easy to see why scammers target its customers. Educate yourself, so you don't fall victim to an Amazon scam.

Insurance Requirements When Leasing a Car
6 July 2022 |

Insurance Requirements When Leasing a Car

If you lease your car, you need to make sure you hold the minimum car insurance coverage, or you'll be in breach of your contract and may need to return your car.

News Relating to Threats & Extortion

Sort by:
News in Other Categories...
Roe vs. Wade Overturned: Abortion Rights in Your State

Roe vs. Wade Overturned: Abortion Rights in Your State

Find out what the overturning of Roe vs. Wade means for abortion rights in your state.

Searches for "COVID Vaccine 5G" Hit All-Time High, But Microchips Definitely Not in Vaccine
2 February 2022 |

Searches for "COVID Vaccine 5G" Hit All-Time High, But Microchips Definitely Not in Vaccine

The number of people searching for the term "COVID vaccine 5G" on Google has just hit an all-time high, but there's one way to be sure that there are no microchips.

Social Media: The New Favorite Amongst Scammers
1 February 2022 |

Social Media: The New Favorite Amongst Scammers

Social media platforms are possibly the most used tools in committing fraud, responsible for $770 million in losses.

Beware When Scanning QR Codes, Even for Menus
20 January 2022 |

Beware When Scanning QR Codes, Even for Menus

The FBI is warning Americans about a new scam circulating in the country involving fraudulent QR codes in public places.

$30M Worth in Counterfeit Goods Seized in Los Angeles
2 December 2021 |

$30M Worth in Counterfeit Goods Seized in Los Angeles

Fake Gucci, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton handbags and clothing were just some of the items found in a large shipment of counterfeit goods coming in from China.