As one of a select few attorneys with practical experience protecting victims of Blackmail and Extortion both online and off, and a lawyer with real-world experience prosecuting these same perpetrators, I am routinely asked how to stop Sextortion on Instagram, what a person can do about Sextortion on Facebook, and if there is a way to put an end to social media Blackmail where intimate images have been weaponized by a former “friend”, real or fake. Unfortunately for online victims, especially teens sextorted on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Reddit, WhatsApp, and even TikTok, the fear of humiliation and exposure is all consuming. Fortunately, however, with the right guidance and counsel, there is an out and a means to close the door on what is likely the most traumatizing experience of your and their life.
The method of attack may come in waves and a variety of words, but the theme is the same: if money is not sent to an anonymous sextorter through Pay Pal, Venmo, Zelle, or some other means, your abuser will share your intimate pictures, videos, or recordings to your friend group, connections, or social network, or post them in a public forum. With this in mind, the following should help guide you as a victim, or parent of a victim, who was duped into sharing intimate images with an online “friend” turned fraudster willing to hurt you through any avenue possible to get the money he wants. Ultimately, taking back control and making the right decisions can limit your personal exposure, protect you online and off, identify your abuser, and put an end to the nightmare that jeopardizes not just your name, family, and future, but your mental health as well.
Step One: Reassure & Support Child & Teen Victims
Even in times most fraught with uncertainty, my mother always reminded me that she and my father supported and loved me no matter what. “This too shall pass,” she would say. Inevitably, she was right. In those moments, I knew there was no judgment and I felt safe confiding in them. I share this “Step One” because if your child is ashamed or fearful of getting in trouble, he or she will not open up and provide you with the information necessary to end their terrifying nightmare. Yes, your child may have immaturely sent a picture of his penis, an image of her breasts, or even a more graphic video, but your child should know that you unequivocally support him or her. Fixing their situation and protecting them is paramount. Being critical or shaming them will not only lead to a dead end, but risk something far worse to your child’s mental or physical health.
Step Two: Stop & Preserve All Communication
As tempting as it may be to immediately respond to threats, it is often best to stop all communications with your victimizer until you have either consulted with an attorney or law enforcement. However, do Not block them. Whether you emailed, texted, or direct messaged on Instagram, WhatsApp, Telegram, or any other app or platform, do NOT delete those communications no matter how embarrassed or scared you may be in the moment. Beyond screenshotting the actual communications, do the same to the scammer’s profile and any and all contact information including other handles, logins, screennames, usernames, email addresses, and even PayPal or Venmo accounts. The more you know about your “friend” the easier it will be for you to stop your harassment going forward.
Step Three: Change All Social Media from Public to Private
Somewhat interchangeable in terms of timing with the preservation of evidence, lock down your public profile. Although a schemer may have already secured enough information about you after you “friended” or invited him into your network of contacts, there is no reason to leave yourself open and accessible to further attacks.
Step Four: Consult with a Sextortion Attorney and/or Contact Law Enforcement
As tempting as it might be, the “ostrich” defense of burying your head in the sand is no more a solution than paying your sextorter based on promises to leave you alone. Both are destined to fail. That said, whether you retain legal counsel or go directly to law enforcement – local, city, or county police like the New York City Police Department, New York State Police, or the FBI – is up to you. Practically speaking, however, there are benefits and detriments to the private Sextortion “fixing” route with a lawyer just as there is in filing a complaint with law enforcement.
Your Own Attorney
The benefit of an attorney or law firm with the real-world training and experience to both investigate and shut down online Extortion, especial attacks on children, is their ability to quickly seize control of a spiraling situation while also best protecting your privacy. Simply, retaining such a lawyer puts you in the best place to limit past damage and future exposure whether the blackmailer is in Eastern Europe, Asia, or preying on children from the basement of his mother’s home in New York, California, or anywhere in between.
Armed with the evidence you preserved and with an open line of communication, your counsel, along with a private investigator, can take the steps to directly identify your sextorter or do so indirectly through the information he or she used to perpetrate their fraud. Along with the ability to secure additional evidence and to communicate with your extorter as needed, your legal advisor will implement the right strategy before confronting your abuser through any available channel – direct message, phone, email – and, when necessary and able, even a knock on the door.
The bottom line, what might be as quick as a couple of hours, an experienced lawyer can convince even the most hardened and selfish criminal, and do so ethically and within the four corners of the law, that his campaign of abuse is over.
Unlike a retained attorney who works for and answers to you, police, federal agents, and prosecutors do not. That said, the benefit of filing a criminal complaint with law enforcement is that if they can identify the person, theoretically they can make an arrest. The reality, however, is not only is this an incredibly slow process, if the person is outside the jurisdiction or probable cause is lacking, law enforcement officers are not traveling overseas or across the United States to take anyone into custody. Unfortunately, they are also likely inundated with “smaller” complaints just like yours where an anonymous individual is demanding a few hundred or even thousands of dollars. While their subpoena power is expansive, it can take weeks, or even months, to obtain a response. Even assuming the internet or email provider complies, by the time the information is returned the damage may be too great.
Ultimately, while your safety is paramount to law enforcement, and their response may be more thorough, they are nowhere as efficient nor responsive as your own counsel when every minute counts.
Step Five: Implement Your Strategy & Seizing Control
The legal team you hire, along with investigators when needed, will do their homework to best uncloak the criminal on the other end of the internet and confront them not merely with their own words and actions, but make the consequences of their misconduct overwhelmingly clear. In doing so, your lawyer will explain not just in the realm of their criminality, but how their actions, even from afar, can lead to devastating financial ramifications.
This Too Shall Pass
There are many moving parts to put an end to social media Sextortion. From making sure child victims know there is no judgment nor shame, to seizing control of what seems like an overwhelming situation, if you set aside the panic and fear, preserve the evidence, and work with the right professionals to implement a plan of action, “this too shall pass.”
Jeremy Saland, referred to by the New York Daily News as part of the “‘A-Team’ of ex-lawmen help[ing] extract victims from blackmail ploys”, is an attorney with extensive real-world experience both prosecuting Extortion as a Manhattan prosecutor and legally stopping Sextortion schemes for victims both online and off. From pursuing sextorters in New York and across the United States, as well as blackmailers in countries as far away as the Philippines, Kenya, and England, Saland Law’s successes is a testament to knowledge to Jeremy’s knowledge and experience.
To learn more about Saland Law’s services, as well as those for victims of Sextortion, Blackmail, Stalking, and similar crimes by former intimate partners, spouses, sugar babies, and others, follow the highlighted links.