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East Anglia Future 50

What you need to know about the blackmail scam which threatens to reveal personal information

PUBLISHED: 12:19 28 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:30 28 March 2019

People have been blackmailed with the threat of personal information about them being released.
 
Picture: James Bass

People have been blackmailed with the threat of personal information about them being released. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

Scammers are targeting people in Norfolk with emails threatening to release personal information to contacts if money is not transferred.

A warning has been issued over a scam in which people are blackmailed via email. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphotoA warning has been issued over a scam in which people are blackmailed via email. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Norfolk County Council’s trading standards team said they have received several reports of the scam, which includes attempts to blackmail recipients with personal information, including details of online activity, photographs and passwords.

Messages often say the sender has “hacked this mailbox” or has been “observing you online”, sometimes including a password that will be known to the recipient.

They often claim to have access to social media and email accounts, browsing history and contacts, as well as photos and videos from the person’s computer.

Scammers will also make accusations over websites they have visited, and threaten to share the information with contacts unless an amount is paid in Bitcoin, a form of electronic currency.

Stephen Maunder, community protection officer for Norfolk trading standards, said the team had been alerted to examples in Norfolk of emails which included the recipient’s password, and ones without.

He said there had also been instances where the message appeared to be sent from the recipient’s own email address.

“It’s hard to pin down what, if any, information they have, but if passwords are included then that’s likely to have come from a data breach,” he said. “There have been a number of high-profile data breaches which, unfortunately, means some information is now out there, but it might be old.

“The vast majority are likely to be scams, sent out to thousands of people at once.”

He said, either way, their advice was to delete the email and not reply.

In an example email shared by trading standards, the sender says “you entered a password on the websites you visited, and I intercepted it”, and makes a joke about the recipient’s “good taste” in browsing history.

Action Fraud has urged people not to reply to the email or feel pressured into paying - “it only highlights that you are vulnerable and you could be targeted again”, they said.

They say you should reset the password, where possible, on any accounts where you have used the password mentioned, and install anti-virus software. If you have already paid the sum, report it to the police.

• Have you been affected by a scam? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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