Online blackmail

Online blackmail

Offenders use the internet to lie about their identity in order to harm young people. Our article provides advice on talking to your child about online blackmail, and offers advice on how you can support them to identify risk online and access help if they need it.

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There are lots of opportunities for young people online. This includes connecting with others, developing relationships, finding information, accessing support, and networking for jobs and education.

However, it’s not always easy to judge the legitimacy of new online friends and contacts. It’s easy to lie about who you are online and to hide behind a profile.

Unfortunately, there are some individuals and groups who hide their identity online or lie so they can trick people into sharing private information or sexual content with them.

What is online blackmail?

‘Online blackmail’ is the act of threatening to share information about an individual (including images or video) to the public, their friends or family online, unless a demand is met.

Online blackmail can take place in any online service, website or app. Blackmailers may be more likely to make threats on private messaging services where images and videos can be shared. However, they may threaten to share information or images in more public social media services - such as their favourite social media platform.

Both blackmailers and victims of online blackmail can be adults or young people.

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What happens when a young person is blackmailed?

In many cases of online blackmail against young people, blackmailers start by manipulating, tricking or coercing them into sharing nude images of themselves. For example, they might pretend they have hacked their webcams or computer history and have sexual images or embarrassing information. Once obtained, they threaten to share content publically unless demands for money or further images are met.

Young people will often try to meet the demands as they are afraid of the consequences of the threat being carried out. In some cases where a young person refuses to comply, the offender has carried out their threats;  in other cases, they have not.

The impact of online blackmail on young people

Online blackmail can be frightening, and victims young and old often feel embarrassed, scared, or that they have no way out. Although victims of online blackmail are never to blame, fear of judgement or getting into trouble is often a big barrier to them reporting.

Many young people tell us that they would be worried about going to parents first if they had a worry or concern online.  We want to encourage parents to empower their children to turn to them if they are worried.

What can you do?

  • Chat regularly. The best way you can support your child is to establish a positive relationship with them around their life online. Talk to them often, make these ongoing conversations part of your family life. The more relaxed and calm you seem, the more open your child will be to talking to you about their online life, and coming to you for help if they need it. Try talking about stories you have seen in the news or on TV about online blackmail and whether it’s something they or their friends are concerned about.
  • Talk about ‘too good to be true’ offers. Encourage them to question anything they are offered online from someone they do not know offline. Remind them it is always better to check in with a trusted adult if they are unsure what to do. If they are searching for employment, direct them towards trusted employment agencies or job sites.  
  • Talk about where to find age appropriate information about sex and relationships. It is natural for young people to experiment with their sexual feelings online. However, it is important that your child knows there are risks in offering or accepting offers of money for image sharing and sexual activity online. Our teens website and organisations such as Childline and Brook have age appropriate advice on topics such as sexual communication and image sharing within healthy and unhealthy relationships.
  • Ensure your child knows they can turn to you for support. Let your child is know that they can come to you for help with any online concerns or incidents that are worrying them. Make sure they know that you would never blame them for anything that might happen online. Suggest other trusted adults or sources of help they can go to if they feel they can’t talk to you.
  • Make sure your child knows where to report. Remind your child they can report concerns, including online blackmail, directly within an app or platform they are using.

Reporting to CEOP

If your child shared a nude image because they were threatened, pressured, or forced to, or you believe your child is being groomed or is at risk of sexual abuse you should report to us at CEOP.

CEOP is specifically responsible for protecting children under 18.

If your child has reached the age of 18, you can support your child to report incidents of online abuse directly to the police.

  • Trust your instincts: It’s not always easy to spot the signs of online grooming and sexual exploitation. Remember, you know your child better than anyone. If you have any concern at all about someone your child is in contact with, or you feel something isn’t right, get in touch with CEOP. Read out guidance on when to report to CEOP.


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How to support your child if they are concerned about something that is happening to them online

If your child has told you that someone is trying to trick, threaten, or blackmail them online – or this has already happened:

  • Reassure them that they’ve done the right thing by telling you. It will have taken a lot of courage for your child to speak to you about something that has happened online,  particularly if it involves sexual abuse. They may be struggling with feelings of shame if they’ve been coerced into performing sexual acts or sharing images, and anxiety or fear about telling you. Make sure they know they’re not to blame and they have done the right thing seeking your help.
  • Seek help and report. Making a report can sound like a scary step for young people and parents. If your child has been or is being pressured, threatened or blackmailed online, it is important that they are helped to be safe. You canreport concerns about grooming and sexual abuse to CEOP -

If the online blackmail does not involve grooming or sexual abuse or your child is over the age of 18, contact the police.

  • Don’t respond.  If someone is making threats or demands against your child, it is safer to advise your child not to respond or communicate with them in any way.
  • Block them.  Advise your child to block the person on all accounts they have been contacting them on. It's a good idea not to delete anything that could be used as evidence against the blackmailer. 

Further Information