FBI warns of email extortion scams

Posted at 12:43 PM, Jun 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-30 12:43:10-04

With recent high-profile data breaches, the FBI is warning of a new type of email scam. The scammer is attempting extortion.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center has been receiving reports from people who have received recent extortion attempts related to recent data thefts. The recipient are told that their personal information like their name, address, phone number credit card information and other personal data.

They are then told that if they do not pay a ransom, this information will be leaked to their social media contacts, family and friends. The method of payment is Bitcoin, which is a virtual currency that provides a high degree of anonymity to the transactions, states an FBI press release.

The deadline to pay is typically short, and the ransom ranges from 2 to 5 bitcoins, which is roughly $250 to $1,200.

If you believe you have been the victim of this scam, you can reach out to your local FBI field office or file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center here.

Below are some examples from the FBI of the extortion emails, as well as tips to protect yourself from scammers:

“Unfortunately your data was leaked in a recent corporate hack and I now have your information. I have also used your user profile to find your social media accounts. Using this I can now message all of your friends and family members.”

“If you would like to prevent me from sharing this information with your friends and family members (and perhaps even your employers too) then you need to send the specified bitcoin payment to the following address.”
“If you think this amount is too high, consider how expensive a divorce lawyer is. If you are already divorced then I suggest you think about how this information may impact any ongoing court proceedings. If you are no longer in a committed relationship then think about how this information may affect your social standing amongst family and friends.”

“We have access to your Facebook page as well. If you would like to prevent me from sharing this dirt with all of your friends, family members, and spouse, then you need to send exactly 5 bitcoins to the following address.”
“We have some bad news and good news for you. First, the bad news, we have prepared a letter to be mailed to the following address that details all of your activities including your profile information, your login activity, and credit card transactions. Now for the good news, You can easily stop this letter from being mailed by sending 2 bitcoins to the following address.”

Here are some tips from the FBI to protect yourself from scammers:

• Do not open e-mail or attachments from unknown individuals.
• Monitor your bank account statements regularly, as well and as your credit report at least once a year for any fraudulent activity.
• Do not communicate with the subject.
• Do not store sensitive or embarrassing photos of yourself online or on your mobile devices.
• Use strong passwords and do not use the same password for multiple websites.
• Never provide personal information of any sort via e-mail. Be aware, many e-mails requesting your personal information appear to be legitimate.
• Ensure security settings for social media accounts are turned on and set at the highest level of protection.
• When providing personally identifiable information, credit card information, or other sensitive information to a website, ensure the transmission is secure by verifying the URL prefix includes https, or the status bar displays a “lock” icon.