How to Deal With Blackmail

Three Parts:Handling BlackmailProtecting Physical Files Against BlackmailProtecting Digital and Online Information Against Blackmail

Blackmail is a crime. It involves threats used to coerce someone to give up money, services, or personal property against their will.[1] Frequently, these threats pertain to physical violence, exposure of sensitive information, or mistreatment of a loved one. Dealing with blackmail can be a stressful process. Knowing the best way to approach this problem and how to prevent it in the future can help ease the stress and anxiety of dealing with blackmail..

Part 1
Handling Blackmail

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    Assess the grounds. Opportunists may attempt to create a blackmail situation from a thin premise. This might include overhearing a sensitive conversation and attempting to exploit it, or possessing photos of a sensitive nature and looking to expose them if demands are not met. Assessing the situation requires being honest and introspective. Ask yourself about how damaging the information is, and whether the blackmailer poses a real threat to you. Some things to consider are:[2]
    • Is your employment at risk? Would release of information endanger your ability to maintain reasonable employment?
    • Are you endangering someone else? Even if you are unharmed, would someone else suffer physical or emotional damage as a result of the blackmail?
    • What is the worst thing that could happen? Real blackmail poses more than an inconvenience. It can create irreparable harm, either physically or emotionally. Based on who is involved in the blackmail scheme, assess what is the worst case outcome. Ask yourself whether that outcome is severe enough not to ignore.
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    React to a blackmailer you know. It is unfortunately too common that blackmail comes from people we know and once trusted-- friends, fellow students, ex-partners, even family. When we are close to the blackmailer, it can make it difficult to approach law enforcement for relief.
    • When it is someone we know, it is frequently a form of "emotional blackmail," extorting closeness or prolonging a relationship to prevent information from being exposed. This is still blackmail and you are entitled to protection under the law.
    • If the threats being made could impact your physical safety, you must inform law enforcement at once. Even if no immediate action is taken, having the threats on record can help your case if legal action is ever needed.
    • If the blackmailer is threatening to expose your sexuality when you haven't yet told others, consider contacting the GLBT National Help Center. They have youth talk lines with counselors, peer chat, and emergency hotlines to help you emotionally cope with this crisis.[3]
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    Discuss with a friend you trust. When faced with a problem, our own anxieties can cause us to exaggerate the situation. At times like this, it is a good idea to get the advice of a trustworthy and honest person.
    • A trustworthy person could be a religious leader, a friend, or a therapist.
    • Getting an outside opinion can bring perspective to the situation. Even if they are unable to help you find a solution, there is an emotional benefit to knowing you are not facing this situation alone.[4]
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    Take away leverage. If you recognize that the information does not pose a significant threat, reveal the information yourself before your blackmailer has the opportunity.
    • This removes any leverage the blackmailer possesses.
    • It demonstrates your strength through honesty and taking personal responsibility.
    • It will invoke sympathy and support in your friends and family.
    • Coming clean lets you control the narrative surrounding the information, exposing the blackmailer for their negative intentions.[5]
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    Keep all evidence of blackmail. Maintain legible photos or transcripts of all contact between yourself and your blackmailer. Save voice mails and record phone conversations.
    • This is all information that an attorney or law enforcement will need to determine if your case can be prosecuted.[6]
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    Reach out to law enforcement. If after assessment, the information poses too great a threat to be revealed, contact law enforcement. [7]
    • Law enforcement is trained to know how to create a case against your blackmailer.
    • Law enforcement can ensure that you are protected from any threat of physical harm.
    • Although it may be painful, law enforcement may ask you to prolong the negotiation with your blackmailer. This is because, in many jurisdictions, blackmail requires written or recorded evidence of threat, along with request for payment. Be sure to do what the police tell you to do, even if it seems difficult or hurtful at the time.
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    Hire an attorney if needed. Law enforcement will be able to tell you whether a lawyer can protect your interests.
    • Lawyers have a thorough understanding of the legal system and may be able to suggest solutions that others would not be aware of.
    • With reasonable grounds, an attorney can successful prosecute blackmail, ensuring jail time for the perpetrator.[8][9]
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    Never take matters into your own hands. Do not behave rashly or seek revenge. The crime of blackmail is serious and carries heavy penalties on its own.
    • By injuring, persecuting, or otherwise attempting to harm the blackmailer, you implicate yourself in criminal activity and diminish the likelihood of receiving justice.[10]

Part 2
Protecting Physical Files Against Blackmail

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    Store securely. Physical files containing sensitive information can be held within a safe deposit box at a bank, within a personal safe, or in a lockable filing cabinet.
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    Keep only what is needed. Some documents need to be kept long term; others can be destroyed within a set time frame. [11]
    • Never throw away tax-records. These should be filed an stored in the event of an audit. Often electronic and online tax services like Quickbooks or TaxACT will maintain your tax records for a yearly fee.
    • Keep all records pertaining to home ownership. In the event of a divorce, property dispute, or bankruptcy, maintain all records pertaining to mortgages and home ownership.
    • Maintain records of retirement income. This is to prevent over payment to the IRS and keeps track of all contributions.
    • Maintain charity giving records and investment statements for 3 years.
    • Destroy ATM receipts, banking statements, deposit slips, and credit card receipts. After you’ve checked each receipt against your electronic banking register and credit card statement, destroy these records.
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    Get a shredder. A shredder is the safest way to get rid of sensitive documents, unnecessary receipts, duplicate records, expired credit cards. There are several types available; however, cross-cut shredders provide the greatest amount of security.

Part 3
Protecting Digital and Online Information Against Blackmail

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    Protect passwords. This means never sharing them in emails or chats. It is also advisable to use a password manager like Last Pass or Keepass, which encrypts stored passwords until you need them.[12][13]
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    Do not save passwords within a browser. Some browsers give you the option of saving your passwords when you visit certain websites. If you are not the only person using your computer, this means any other user can see your banking info, emails, or other personal data.
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    Protect sensitive files. Password protect files that you do not wish for others to see and/or consider saving sensitive files to a passport drive that can be stored within a personal safe or safety deposit box.
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    Use an anti-virus program. The new generation of virus doesn't just damage your computer.
    • Trojans can take information from your hard-drive, even controlling your computer's camera and taking pictures while you don't notice.[14]
    • Ransomware can encrypt all information on a hard drive, refusing to return it until a fee is paid.[15]
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    Be wary of unsecured wi-fi networks. Although it can be tempting to use an unsecured connection when we don’t want to pay for wi-fi, viewing any sensitive or private information on an unsecured network means that it can be viewed by others as well.[16]
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    Avoid and report “phishing.” Phishing is when you receive an email from someone posing as a legitimate person, website or service provider that you trust, asking you for sensitive financial or personal account information.
    • Legitimate service providers will never ask you for this kind of information through email, as it would expose you to security risk.[17]
    • If you receive an email of this nature, most email platforms have a “Report” function to inform the provider of this threat so it can be neutralized.
    • Dispose of e-waste properly. Before recycling old hard-drives—even non-functional ones—ensure any personal information is removed by doing a final “wipe.” This ensures that anyone who may attempt to mine it for information will not be able to do so.[18]


  • Note that some legal jurisdictions differentiate between what is deemed "extortion" instead of "blackmail" and each is subject to different handling when building a burden of evidence. Consult a lawyer regarding what the law is in your jurisdiction.[19]

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Categories: Stress Anxiety and Crisis Management