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USA's Internet Crime Complaint Centre says these are commonly seen factors in on-line extortion

Editorial Staff

The Internet Crime Complaint Centre (IC3) has seen a growing number of reports about extortion attempts received by both e-mail and postal mail which use specific information about the potential victim to add authenticity. While there are many variations in these extortion attempts, there is often something common to the approaches, IC3 says.

Below, slightly edited, is the notice issued by IC3.

Extortion attempts vary widely but there are a few common indicators of the scam. The following list of common features is not exhaustive. It is intended as examples of warning signs. It is import to remember that online scams, including extortion scams, mutate to take advantage of current events such as high profile breaches or new trends involving the Internet to add authenticity.

Here are some factors that IC3 has identified as commonly present in the scams.

1 The extortion attempt comes as an e-mail or letter from someone you don't know.

2 The your personal information appears in the e-mail or letter which adds a higher degree of both credibility and intimidation to the scam. For example, your user name and/or password is appears in the e-mail or letter.

3 You are often accused of visiting adult websites, cheating on a spouse, or being involved in other compromising situations.

4 The e-mail or letter includes a statement like, “I stumbled across your misadventures,” or “I installed malware on the adult video site” as an explanation of how the information was supposedly gathered.

5 The e-mail or letter threatens to send a video or other compromising information to family, friends, colleagues, social network contacts or the police if the ransom is not paid.
6 The e-mail or letter provides a short window to pay, typically 48 hours.

7 You are instructed to pay the ransom in bitcoin or some other virtual currency that provides a high degree of anonymity to the transactions.


1 Do not open e-mail or attachments from unknown individuals.

2 Do monitor your bank account statements regularly, as well as your credit report at least once a year, for any fraudulent activity.

3 Do not communicate with unsolicited email senders.

4 Do not store sensitive or embarrassing photos of yourself online or on your mobile devices.

5 Use strong passwords and do not use the same password for multiple websites.

6 Never provide personal information of any sort via e-mail. Be aware that many e-mails requesting your personal information appear to be legitimate.

7 Ensure security settings for social media accounts are turned on and set at the highest level of protection.

8 When providing personally identifiable information, credit card information or other sensitive information to a website, ensure the transmission is secure by verifying the URL prefix includes https, or the status bar displays a “lock” icon.

The FBI does not condone the payment of extortion demands as the funds will encourage continued criminal activity including potential organised crime activity and associated violent crimes.


If you believe you have been a victim of this type of scam you should contact your local FBI field office, and file a complaint with the IC3 at www.ic3.gov. Please provide any relevant information in your complaint, including the extortion e-mail with header information and bitcoin (etc.) address if available.