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How to Tell When an Email is a Blackmail Scam

March 19, 2019 | by Berton Warner

Imagine opening your inbox to check your email and seeing an unusual message sent to you. Once you open the email you see the message is telling you that they have “incriminating” or “sensitive” information or pictures of you. In order to stop them from releasing this information to the world, you have to fork up a large sum of money either through Western Union, Moneypak, or Bitcoin. Just like phony IRS calls, these emails are much the same and operate with the same method. Scaring individuals into taking prompt action against a false threat that never existed in the first place. These kinds of extortion blackmail scams are becoming more and more common everyday and everyday people are falling victim to them more and more. So what do you do when this happens to you?

Scammer looking at laptops to take moneyRecognizing Blackmail Scams

First of all, always be sure to take emails that demand payment with hesitation. If the email appears it is from a legitimate organization such as a bank or cable company, always double check whether or not this email is valid with the company themselves. If the email appears to be from a random address or from someone you don’t know then never trust it. As a general rule of thumb, wiring money or paying through bitcoin are the most common ways for scammers to steal your money, so always be wary about using these payment methods for any transaction.

Also, pay attention to spelling or grammar. Often times these scam emails will have substandard grammar and spelling. This is often a telltale sign that the email is fraudulent and seeking to scam you. Any email asking for passwords, SSNs, offering free giveaways, asking for upfront deposits, or anything similar is often a scam, and you should proceed with caution in determining whether something is legitimate or not.

A common example of these blackmail scams are emails that start off with stating they have incriminating evidence against you such as child pornography, nude images, or other illegal activities such as tax evasion, etc. These are very serious accusations and they will often get you nervous and willing to act quickly to get the matter resolved. Emails that claim to have personal information of you or claim to have evidence of illegal conduct you have done followed by demands for payment are often blackmail scams and you should not panic and rush to do anything rash when receiving them.

orange desktop with text of ransom fee

Demanded a Ransom?

Never pay the ransom fee. This only fuels the fire of scam and extortion emails and further encourages its creation and spread. Do not respond to any scam emails that come from an unknown origin as the interaction alone will put you under the scammer’s scrutiny as they will relentlessly try to exploit your curiosity as it already shows that they have you hooked. Ignore these scam emails and when they demand this ransom, no matter how scary they may seem, they are not true.

A great way to make ensure the person requesting money is a scammer is to check the account they are requesting the money to be sent to. If it’s a bitcoin wallet, it’s necessary to double check the account of the person requesting to make sure they aren’t associated with any known scammers and that their account is legitimate. Be aware there are malware programs and other malicious activity that can change the address of where you’re sending bitcoin, so it is always best to ensure that the wallet you are sending to is the correct one.

Change Your Passwords

laptop with the number one and tablet with number 2

If the email you receive contains a password or something similar to a password you are currently using or have used in the past, change it immediately. The best thing to do is to make sure that your passwords are strong. Moving forward, enabling 2-factor authentication to ensure that your accounts are protected will be crucial for your business’ security as well. Believe it or not, many scammers will take your email address and personal passwords to sell on the dark web. But how can you see if your data has been breached? How do you begin to find out whether or not you’ve been affected?

It’s important to invest in multiple layers of security, such as dark web scanning. With this solution, it will scour the dark web in order to find out whether or not your information has been shared or leaked. The dark web is the unindexed portion of the internet that can only be accessed through special software like Tor. While the dark web is not inherently bad, a lot of hackers and scammers congregate here for anonymity like purchasing your employee’s sensitive information.

hacker from the dark web looking at laptop

Having strong security measures and ensuring you have the knowledge of what scam emails look like are important. Phishing is an increasingly alarming threat and will only continue to grow and spread unless the public is educated about how harmful these types of emails are. Be sure that you and your employees are knowledgeable and educate others about the dangers of these scam emails.


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Categories: Security, Office Hacks, Email

Berton Warner

About Berton Warner

With 25 years of IT experience, Berton Warner brings a plethora of experience and knowledge to the table. After 12 years as an IT business owner, he understands the business and technical side of IT. He enjoys the constantly changing, growing and ever expanding IT world and looks forward to new challenges and opportunities.

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