Emails threatening harm or even death to the person receiving the email or members of his or her family unless a ransom is paid are increasing. The threats are merely a scam although the FBI takes them seriously. The FBI first warned about this scam in 2006, but just recently issued a new warning to the public to be aware of this scam. In the more recent emails, the extortion payment is demanded to be made in Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies which are impossible to trace. Often the emails contain personal information harvested through social media which make the threats appear more legitimate. In addition, in some circumstances, rather than a death threat, the threat is of public embarrassment by the threatened publication of personal photographs.
The FBI is requesting people who receive these threats to report them to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at Recognizing that these emails are scams, do not respond in any fashion to them. These extortion emails also serve as a reminder that many of us put too much personal information on various social media that can be used by cybercriminals for purposes of extortion, identity theft and other criminal purposes. Often information gathered from social media is used to formulate spear phishing emails specifically tailored to the recipient that may appear trustworthy and can lure the intended victim into clicking on links in the emails or text messages and thereby downloading various forms of malware such as ransomware or keystroke logging malware that can lead to identity theft. As always, you should never click on any link in an email or text message unless you have confirmed that it is legitimate.
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