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The different types of internet blackmail

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by Staff Writer

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This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.

One of the most challenging problems on the internet is the fact that it has made our secrets, whether personal or professional, much easier to access.

Many people will state that they have “nothing to hide,” and it’s true that few of us are engaged in any seriously illegal activity.

Even still, there may be perfectly legal but embarrassing information in your life that you’d like to keep hidden: private photos, personal discussions, or business secrets—these are often what internet blackmail targets.

To protect yourself, you first need to know what online blackmail actually is, and the kinds of blackmail that happen on the internet.

After you read this, you may also want to explore our other articles on this topic:

Categories of blackmail and other types of related crimes

Blackmail, extortion, and several other related crimes fall under the general category of coercion, in which someone is forced to do or not do something.

The specifics of how the crimes are defined vary from country to country, but coercion-related crimes are almost always illegal.

Of course, for blackmail to rise to the level of a felony, it needs to be a somewhat serious offense: a parent threatening to take away television-watching privileges from a child until his or her room is cleaned clearly doesn’t count as criminal blackmail.

That said, there has been a fair amount of confusion about whether or not online blackmail is covered by the same laws and protections as its offline equivalent.

In almost all cases, the answer is yes. In fact, there may also be additional laws that provide further recourse to victims, as explained in our article on internet blackmail laws.


In the United States, extortion and blackmail are different crimes, although they are closely related. Extortion is the use of a threat to get something out of the target, either property, money, or some service.

Ransomware is a common example of online extortion in which the victim’s computer is locked down until a ransom is paid.

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Often, attackers will take control of a user’s computer by sending phishing emails.

These are misleading emails, disguised as security alerts or other urgent correspondence.

Once a victim clicks the links in these emails, a virus is installed on his or her computer. The hacker then locks out the user or threatens to delete all information on the computer unless the target pays a ransom.


Internet blackmail is a form of cybercrime where scammers and blackmailers manipulate individuals through emotional tactics to exploit their trust. They often threaten to expose explicit or embarrassing content unless their demands are met.

Victims often have feelings of shame or are fearful of the consequences if embarrassing or sexual content is exposed. The damage to one’s personal life can be horrifying.

Types of internet blackmail

As with ransomware, a lot of online blackmail starts with a hacker taking control of the victim’s computer. The attacker then looks for compromising information about the victim and uses it to control the victim’s behavior.

Here are some common types of internet blackmail:

1. Sextortion: Often, hackers demand sexually compromising photography or videos. This is known as “sextortion.” In a variation on this attack, instead of searching for preexisting files a blackmailer may simply take control of the victim’s webcam and record compromising videos. He or she then uses these videos to blackmail the victim.

2. Revenge porn: This involves the distribution of intimate images, videos, or other sexual images, without the individual’s consent. Blackmailers may threaten to release these materials unless their demands, such as money or additional explicit content, are met.

3. Personal information blackmail: Scammers obtain sensitive personal information, such as login credentials or social security numbers, and threaten to expose or misuse the information unless their demands are fulfilled. These scams are used in large security breaches and online blackmail a lot.

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4. Fake profiles and catfishing: Individuals may encounter blackmailers who create fake social media profiles to befriend and manipulate victims. This isn’t a new type of crime; it’s just becoming more common with the explosion of social platform apps. This type of cybercrime coerces victims into sharing personal or explicit content, which is later used as leverage for blackmail.

5. Account takeover: This form of blackmail starts by gaining unauthorized access to individuals’ online accounts, blackmailers can gather sensitive information or explicit content. They then use this to blackmail victims into complying with their demands.

These types of internet blackmail are fueled by emotional manipulation and the exploitation of trust. Social media platforms, online extortion, and sextortion are becoming common terms used together. So be careful.

Dating apps and social media are a breeding ground for scammers praying on people’s emotions.

Threats of action

Another common attack is a “threat of action,” which is a form of corporate extortion.  First, the blackmailer obtains sensitive information about the target business, often through hacking or phishing scams.

This information can range from a client list to proprietary secrets or anything else that would harm the business if made public. The attacker then demands payment to keep the information secret.

Threats of defamation

“Threat of defamation” is a form of libel. It is a demand for money or other favors to prevent the blackmailer from smearing the victim’s reputation with false statements.

For example, a blackmailer might threaten to generate a large number of bad reviews for a business or spread harmful rumors about an individual.

What to do if you receive a blackmail threat

Responding appropriately to a blackmail threat can help reduce the reputational damage that might occur should the perpetrator expose your personal information. 

If you receive a threat: 

  1. Go to the police—While the material the blackmailer may have on you is likely to be embarrassing, the actions of the blackmailer are likely even more damaging and embarrassing to your reputation. They may also jeopardize your safety. 
  1. Document everything—It’s important to keep a record of any communication the blackmailer has sent you. Take screenshots of emails and chat logs and immediately save them to a USB drive. The more information you have, the better your case against the blackmailer will be. 
  1. Stop using your computer—Anything you may do on the compromised machine can be used against you. The police will likely want access to the device, so simply power it off and use another device you know to be safe. 
  1. Change all your passwords—If the attacker has copied your passwords, he or she can spread the attack through your social media accounts or other online sources. Locking these down is crucially important. 

How to reduce your chances of being blackmailed 

The best way to avoid being targeted by blackmailers is to reduce the amount of personal information people can find about you online. This involves several steps, including:

  • Removing your information from data-broker sites
  • Auditing your social media accounts for personal details
  • Deleting personal data from other websites you own

If you need any help with any of these steps, give us a call. One of the best ways to find out if you have information on the internet damaging your reputation is by using or free and very powerful reputation report card analysis.

This report gives you instant feedback about how others view you online. It’s remarkable. We are happy to offer advice about your unique situation based on what you find.