Pagoda Blog

What To Do If You Receive Blackmail In Your Inbox

March 7, 2019

Blackmail emails aren’t new but there’s been an uptick in the number sent since the start of 2019. The most recent batch have tried to blackmail their targets into paying a ransom by claiming they have evidence of them watching pornography online. They threaten to reveal this evidence, purportedly hacked from your computer’s webcam and screen-capturing function, to all of your email and social media contacts unless you pay the ransom.


This is a scary email to receive and if you’re not familiar with phishing scams, it can appear like a legitimate threat. Lately, the cyber criminals behind these emails have also included personal information, like your phone number or password, making the threat more convincing.


We’re here to reassure you that this kind of blackmail only poses a threat if you click any links in the email, reply, or pay the ransom. These criminals have access to your personal information not because they’ve directly hacked into your computer but because of the many large-scale data breaches in the last couple years. (Examples of just a few of these data breaches include Adobe, LinkedIn, and Uber.)


Here’s what you need to know about blackmail emails so you can protect your personal or company data from falling into the wrong hands:


Don’t open blackmail

If you receive an email that you can identify as blackmail from the subject line, don’t open it. When you open this type of email, even if you don’t click any links, you can put yourself at risk. Many of these emails contain a small, transparent image called a beacon that notifies the sender that you’ve opened the content. This lets them know they’ve hit upon a valid and active email address and can lead to additional blackmail and phishing scams.


Don’t engage with the content

If you open the email before you realize it’s blackmail, do not interact with any of the content. This means you should never click links, download attachments, or reply. It is ok to copy and paste a line or two from the email into Google and review the results for reports that it is indeed a scam.   


Report the scam

If a suspicious email ends up in your primary inbox, always, at the very least, report the email as spam. In Gmail, you can easily do this by checking the box next to the unopened email and then selecting the ‘Report Spam’ option from the main menu at the top of your inbox. From Outlook, you can go a step further and quickly report the email as ‘phishing.’ To do this, select the email then select ‘Phishing’ under the ‘Junk’ label at the top. To officially report a phishing scam, the FTC requests that you forward the phishing email to See full instructions on the FTC’s website. When you take the time to report it as a phishing scam, you help alert others to the risk and may be able to block the sender. If you have already replied to the email with your personal information, including a credit card number to pay the ransom, you will need to file an identity theft report.


Notify your team

If you receive a phishing email to your work address, it’s a good idea to report the attempted attack to the appropriate department, depending on your company policy. This can help prevent others who may receive the same email from opening it and exposing the company to a potential data breach. Learn more about training your entire team on best cybersecurity practices here.  


Stay informed

We share many other tactics for protecting your business from a cyber attack in past blog posts (check out our suggestions for further reading below), but one simple way you can keep yourself safe is to stay informed. Take time to read the technology section of your favorite news source and scan for any recent data breaches, phishing scams, or other potential threats to your data. You can also sign up for our newsletter for easy-to-implement security tips and best practices for your business.


Related reading:


Online Credit Card Security and What to Do in the Event of a Data Breach

How to Protect Your Business from Identity Theft

Why You Need a BYOD Policy and How to Create It


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