Sextortion and blackmail

Webcam blackmail has evolved as a new way to demand money after video chat sessions are recorded and threats made to publish recordings online

Close up on webcam on laptop

Webcam blackmail and sextortion has evolved as a way to blackmail people online. The impact of sextortion can range from mild embarrassment and a sense of humiliation, to extreme emotional harm. This a serious global issue and blackmailers can be located anywhere around the world. They may be individuals working alone, but there are also highly organised criminal groups profiting from sextortion.

How does it work?

In many cases, people are encouraged to take part in an online video chat session after making a new friend on social media or after receiving a message via a dating or video chat app. After chatting for a while, the victim is encouraged to take their clothes off and  engage in sexual activities. In some cases, the person chatting is a real person who is part of a blackmailing operation, and at other times it’s a pre-recorded video.

At the end of the call, or afterwards, they’re told that the session was recorded and the footage will be published online or sent to family members if they don’t pay a ransom. In our experience, the ransom is usually a few hundred dollars.

If the blackmailer has had access to personal details, such as a friend list on social media or a place of work, they may threaten to send the video to these people or publish it somewhere online for friends, family or work colleagues to see.

If you have engaged in sexual acts during a video call with someone online who is now threatening to release the footage, this page will provide advice for you.

If you have been emailed by someone claiming to have hacked your device and recorded you watching pornography online, please visit the fake sextortion scam email page for further advice.

This video from the BBC, explains more about how sextortion works.

Avoiding sextortion

The internet has opened up new ways to communicate with family, friends and other people.  Webcams can be a great tool, but as with most things, there are some people who use this technology to take advantage of others.

Below are some tips to keep safe when using webcams.

  • Be wary of friend requests from people that you don’t know
  • Take care when talking with people you don’t know online
  • Be aware that your ‘private’ video chats can be recorded and used for blackmail
  • Keep your clothes on when video chatting with people you don’t know very well or have just met
  • Be careful with personal information you publish online as it may be used to target your friends, family or employer
  • Review your digital footprint and check that your social media privacy settings are set

If you’re being blackmailed

  1. Do not respond or pay the ransom
  2. If you have connected to the blackmailers on social media, unfriend them, block them and deactivate your account
  3. Block any messages sent over video or other chat apps
  4. Report the accounts being used to the platform that it’s on (e.g. report to Facebook)
  5. Report at your local police station or report it to Netsafe
  6. If the content is posted online, report it immediately to the platform that it’s on and to Netsafe
  7. Seek support from friends, family or our experienced Netsafe team

Paying the initial ransom demand often leads to more threats and requests for more money. We are aware of sextortion videos being published before and after money has been paid. We’ve dealt with many cases of sextortion and understand it can be an overwhelming and difficult situation. You can call the Netsafe helpline for advice and information about sextortion on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723).

If you’re feeling upset by the situation and need to talk to someone, you can contact the following helplines for free:

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354
  • Need to talk? Call or text 1737
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666
  • Depression helpline: 0800 111 757
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 or text 234


If you have lost money or personal information in an attempted sextortion scam or think you are about to, contact us by emailing [email protected] or by completing an online report form.

We can offer support, including letting you know any steps you may be able to take if you’ve been caught up in a scam, and advice on how to stay safe in future.

Our helpline is open from 8am – 8pm weekdays and 9am – 5pm on weekends.

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