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Staying safe in the world of online dating: how to avoid becoming a blackmail victim
Dating blackmail has been generating a source of income for an increasing number of scammers for many years. We have first started to see a sharp increase in dating blackmail cases during COVID where many sex workers found themselves strapped for cash. Since then, the number of reported dating blackmail cases has remained stable.
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Dating blackmail is a form of extortion where someone threatens to release embarrassing or damaging information about you if you don't do what they want. It might be as simple as giving them money, or it could be more complex, like asking you to break the law or do something you would never normally do.
Dating blackmail can have devastating effects on your life, from ruining your relationships to damaging your reputation. It's important to know how it works so you can protect yourself from it. Dating blackmailers typically use tactics like threats, intimidation, and manipulation to get what they want. They might threaten to tell your friends, family, or employer about something private you shared with them. They could also post embarrassing photos or videos online or send them to your contacts.
They may also threaten to harm themselves or someone close to you if you don't meet their demands. In extreme cases, they may even threaten physical violence. It's important to stay safe and not give in to their demands, as they're likely to continue blackmailing you if you do.
Dating blackmailers can employ a variety of sneaky tactics to manipulate and extort their victims. Some of these methods include:
- Catfishing: Blackmailers may create fake profiles on dating websites, posing as an attractive or ideal partners to lure victims into a false sense of trust and intimacy.
- Emotional manipulation: The blackmailer may use emotional tactics to gain your trust and sympathy, such as sharing fabricated personal stories or hardships, making you feel obligated to help them in some way.
- Sextortion: The perpetrator may encourage you to share explicit photos or videos of yourself, only to later threaten to release the compromising material to your friends, family, or employer if you don't comply with their demands, such as sending money or more explicit content.
- Romance scams: The blackmailer may pretend to be in a serious relationship with you and claim to need financial assistance for emergencies, medical expenses, or travel costs, only to disappear once they've received the money.
- Phishing and malware: The blackmailer might send seemingly innocuous messages with links or attachments that, when clicked or opened, install malware on your device or direct you to a phishing website designed to capture your personal information or login credentials.
- Social engineering: The perpetrator may gather information about you from your online presence, such as social media profiles and public records, and use this information to create a more convincing scam tailored to your interests and vulnerabilities.
- Impersonation: In some cases, the blackmailer may impersonate someone you know or a trusted authority figure, such as a law enforcement officer or a government official, to manipulate you into providing sensitive information or money.
Dating blackmail can happen to anyone, but you will be more susceptible to it if you regularly visit dating websites. If you regularly visit online dating websites, you may be more susceptible to blackmail because of the increased risk of exposure to potential predators.
Unfortunately, those who use these websites may be more vulnerable to being blackmailed due to the potential for them to unknowingly reveal personal information or images that can be used against them.
It is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with online dating and take steps to protect yourself. This may include avoiding giving out any unnecessary personal data and being cautious of any requests for money or intimate images.
How to avoid giving personal information on a dating website to minimise the likelihood of dating blackmail
To minimise the likelihood of dating blackmail, follow these tips when using dating websites:
- Be cautious with personal information: Avoid sharing sensitive details like your home address, phone number, workplace, or financial information. Use an alias or a username that doesn't reveal your real name.
- Limit social media connections: Be cautious when connecting your dating profile to your social media accounts. This can expose more personal information than you may realize. Keep your social media accounts private and be selective about who you add as friends or followers.
- Communicate through the platform: Use the messaging system provided by the dating website instead of giving out your personal email or phone number. This helps maintain your privacy and makes it easier to block or report someone if necessary.
- Be cautious with photos: Avoid sharing explicit or compromising images, as these can be used for blackmail. Also, be mindful of any identifiable information or locations in the background of your photos.
- Trust your instincts: If someone seems too good to be true or is pressuring you for personal information, trust your gut and proceed with caution.
- Depending on the nature of the dating website, use a pseudonym. This will help keep your identity confidential and make it more difficult for someone to use your real name in a blackmail attempt.
- Research your match: Perform a reverse image search on your match's profile pictures to ensure they are genuine and not stolen from someone else. This can help you spot potential scammers or catfishers.
- Be cautious with external links: Don't click on links sent to you by matches, as they may lead to malicious websites or scams.
By following these guidelines, you can significantly reduce the chances of falling victim to dating blackmail while using dating websites.
- A dating blackmailer can obtain your personal information in several ways, even if you haven't directly provided it to them. Some of these methods include:
- Social media mining: If your dating profile is connected to your social media accounts or if you use the same profile picture, a blackmailer can search for your social media profiles and gather personal information from them.
- Shared connections: The blackmailer might know someone you know and use that connection to get information about you. They might also pretend to be someone else in order to gain access to your friends or contacts.
- Reverse image search: By performing a reverse image search on the photos you share on the dating website, the blackmailer can potentially find other websites where the same images appear, which could lead them to more personal information.
- Public records: Information like your full name, address, or phone number might be available through public records, which can be accessed by anyone.
- Data breaches: If a website you've used in the past has experienced a data breach, your personal information could have been compromised and made available to blackmailers.
- Phishing: The blackmailer may send you seemingly innocuous messages or emails with links or attachments that, when clicked or opened, install malware on your device, which can then be used to access your personal information.
- Digital eavesdropping: If you're using an unsecured Wi-Fi network or a device with weak security measures, a blackmailer could intercept your communications and gather personal information.
To protect yourself from dating blackmailers, be cautious with the information you share online, maintain strong privacy settings on your social media accounts, use different profile pictures for various platforms, and avoid connecting your dating profile to your social media accounts. Also, be cautious when clicking on links or attachments in messages from unknown sources, and use strong passwords and secure Wi-Fi connections whenever possible.
When someone you met on a dating website sends you a PayPal money request or asks you to pay them via PayPal, there are a few ways they may attempt to obtain your personal information, which they can later use to blackmail you. See for example the case study in the article Blackmailer trying to ruin my marriage.
- Email address: When you send or receive money through PayPal, your email address is typically visible to the other party.
- Scammers may use this email address to search for your social media profiles or other online accounts, which could reveal personal information.
- Name: When you have a personal PayPal account, your full name is often displayed to the recipient during transactions. The scammer could use your name to conduct further searches or create a more convincing scam tailored to your identity.
- Phishing: Scammers might send a fake PayPal money request email that appears legitimate but contains malicious links or attachments. Clicking these links or opening attachments can lead to malware installation or direct you to a phishing website that requests your login credentials or other personal information.
- Fraudulent websites: Some scammers may direct you to a fake PayPal website or a website that looks similar to PayPal. Once you input your login information on these sites, the scammer can access your PayPal account and potentially obtain your personal information.
To protect yourself from scammers and protect your personal information, avoid sending or receiving money through PayPal with individuals you've met on dating websites. Be cautious with any email communication that appears to be from PayPal and verify the legitimacy of the email and the sender. Use strong, unique passwords for each of your online accounts, including PayPal, and enable two-factor authentication whenever possible.
Yes. In many cases, we will track down your blackmailer and find out their true identity, where they live and the people they are connected to. Unmasking the identity of the blackmailer is often a crucial step in permanently resolving a situation of blackmail, including dating blackmail. Once you instruct us, we will take steps to discover the true identity of your blackmailer. We can often identify the blackmailer through technological means but we may also obtain information directly from internet platforms. Here are some steps they may take:
- Technological means: We have in-house cybersecurity expertise and we may also collaborate with other cybersecurity experts or digital forensic investigators to trace the blackmailer's digital footprint. This can include analysing metadata from messages, images, or videos, tracking IP addresses, and identifying patterns or unique characteristics that may link the blackmailer to other online activities.
- Social media investigation: We will conduct extensive research on social media platforms to find any connections or clues that could lead to the blackmailer's identity. This could involve analysing messages, posts, comments, and friend lists to identify potential suspects or patterns.
- Information from Internet platforms: On short notice, we may submit legal requests to online platforms, such as dating websites, social media sites, or email providers, to obtain information about the blackmailer's account, including IP addresses, login timestamps, or other identifying information. This process typically requires a subpoena or court order, and the platforms will generally comply with such requests if they are legally obliged to do so.
- Court orders and subpoenas: We would apply for court orders or subpoenas to compel third parties, such as internet service providers (ISPs), the dating platform or PayPal to reveal the identity of the blackmailer.
- Collaboration with law enforcement: In some cases, if you ask us to and if we believe that this will be in your best interest, we may work with the police to track down the blackmailer. This can involve sharing evidence, coordinating investigations, and leveraging resources and expertise from various agencies.
By employing a combination of these techniques, we would often discover the true identity of your blackmailer, and move on to swiftly have the matter permanently resolved for you by either approaching them directly or by enabling pursuing an application for an injunction (often without notice to the blackmailer) to ensure that they are prevented from distributing any private information or contacting our client and their associates evermore.
Why contact Cohen Davis Solicitors as soon as you become suspicious of becoming the victim of dating blackmail
You should contact Cohen Davis Solicitors as soon as you become suspicious of being a victim of dating blackmail. This is why: Firstly, early intervention can help minimise the potential damage to your privacy, reputation, and emotional well-being. The longer a blackmailer has to operate, the more harm they can cause.
By seeking professional help early on, you can take proactive measures to protect yourself, such as securing your online accounts, gathering evidence, and potentially identifying the perpetrator. Secondly, contacting us ensures that you receive expert legal advice tailored to your specific situation. Our knowledge of Internet law and experience in handling similar cases can be invaluable in guiding you through the process and understanding your rights, as well as the best course of action to take against the blackmailer.
Thirdly, you will receive advice on the best way to handle the police, your workplace and if you are an athlete, your club. Finally, the sooner you contact us the earlier we will make sure that you're better prepared to pursue legal action if the situation escalates. We will gather evidence, issue cease and desist letters, and even obtain court orders or injunctions if necessary.
By acting swiftly, you can increase the likelihood of a successful resolution and potentially prevent the blackmailer from victimising you and adversely affecting your personal life and your career.