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What to do if you’re being blackmailed online

The moment someone starts threatening you in an attempt to get a demand met or to achieve financial gain, that’s blackmail – and it is a very serious crime.

It can lead to devastating financial and social consequences as well as causing extreme psychological trauma to the person being threatened.

If someone is threatening you, or you are worried you might be at risk of being blackmailed, there are a number of steps you can take.

Don’t panic, help and support is available.

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Confide in a friend or family member. It’s difficult to remain objective when you’re feeling threatened.

Talking things through can help you decide how serious the issue really is and help you decide what action to take.

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Don’t give in to a blackmailer. It’s likely to increase the chances of them demanding more.

Instead, contact the Police about what’s happening, no matter how embarrassing the issue might be.

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Delete or block all contact with the blackmailer.

If you know who they are, block them on all social networking accounts and update your privacy settings to stop them from accessing your friend lists.

Gather and keep any evidence, such as messages or screen grabs, that can help prove what the blackmailer has done.

Warn your contacts against viewing any unexpected content or messages.

Criminals sometimes threaten to share embarrassing videos with your friends and associates.

Follow advice from the Police, but you may want to warn others.

Change all of your passwords to strong letter and number combinations. This will help to stop you from being hacked.

You could also create a new email account and put a sticker over your laptop’s webcam to ensure maximum privacy.

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Report any blackmail attempt to the Police. Don’t try to take matters into your own hands. In the UK, you can contact Victim Support.

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If you’ve already paid a blackmailer, in the UK report any losses to Action Fraud.

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Avoid sending or storing sexual images.

You never know where the material might end up, even if you feel you know another person really well.

Carefully choose who you connect with on social media or dating sites.

Never accept contact requests from people you don’t know and avoid responding to direct messages from strangers.

Use a unique email address on dating sites and avoid sharing personal information, such as your full name or address.

Remove unwanted personal information on social media or Google.

If pictures or videos of you have been shared without your permission you can ask – anonymously – for the posts to be removed.

You can report threatening conversations on Facebook, or ask for your personal data to be removed from Google.

Try to avoid posting intimate information online, such as your address or mobile phone number – this gives potential blackmailers more information about you.

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Never share passwords. Instead, make them complex and change them regularly.

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Use privacy settings on apps to control who can see what. It’s a simple task to decide who you want to share your personal details with, so make these changes now.

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Use privacy settings on apps to control who can see what. It’s a simple task to decide who you want to share your personal details with, so make these changes now.

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Avoid using free Wifi, or use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your data. Most public Wifi is insecure, so at the very least find one that requires a password for access.

Always backup your information using the ‘3-2-1’ rule.

This involves having three copies, saved on two different media, with one set stored online in a space like Google Drive or iCloud.

It’s crucial to activate back-up options for cloud storage on your phone and tablet.

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Always keep your phone, laptop and tablet software up to date.

This helps to protect your devices against known cyber-vulnerabilities.

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Always think carefully before clicking on a downloadable item. Ask yourself if you can really trust the source.