The FBI is warning of a growing number of email extortion attempts against individuals, according to statistics from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The news mimics a burgeoning trend of cyber-criminals using ransomware to extort money from hospitals.
The FBI is linking the surge in email extortion to recent high-profile data thefts. In this scenario, a culprit uses news of high-profile data breaches (i.e. Target, Anthem) to scare victims into clicking on a link or paying a ransom.
To pay or not to pay; that is the question
Unless the ransom is paid, the suspect threatens to release data such as phone numbers, addresses, credit card passwords or social security numbers to a victim’s friends, family or social media contacts. The cyber predator may not actually have the sensitive data, but relies on victims who are too frightened to call his bluff.
The recipient is then instructed to pay the ransom in bitcoin, a virtual currency that provides a high degree of anonymity to the transaction. Recipients are typically given a short deadline and the ransom amount ranges from $250 to $1,200.
What should you do?
If this happens to you, the FBI advises contacting a local field office or filing a complaint with the IC3 at www.ic3.gov. Include the keywords “Extortion email scheme” in your complaint, and provide any relevant information, including the extortion email with header information and bitcoin address if available.