Blackmail and extortion on a dating website
This sugar daddy blackmail case involved extortion following an introduction on the dating website SeekingArrangements.com. Using the website could expose high earning individuals to blackmail and extortion by both professional and opportunistic so-called sugar babies.
In the case of XLD v KZL, https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2020/1558.html our client was the Claimant who was regarded as an exemplary family man. He was a US citizen and well-known and highly respected in the entertainment business worldwide. He often travelled to the UK and he was married with children.
The Defendant was a woman from the North of England, whom our client met via the website Seeking Arrangement, a website that, among other similar activities, brings together a ‘Sugar Daddy’ and a ‘Sugar Baby’.
When our client signed up to SeekingArrangement.com, he intended to find someone with whom he could socialise on his visits to England. He contacted the Defendant and they exchanged messages initially via the website and then via the WhatsApp messaging service. The messages became sexually explicit.
Extortionists will always try to convince you to pay them via PayPal. The reason for this is that a payment via PayPal will reveal to the blackmailer your name and your email address. For this reason, a request for payment via PayPal is often the first step a blackmailer will take before they turn nasty on you and they will do whatever they need, and will say whatever you want (or don’t want) to hear to try and convince you to make this first payment, regardless of how low the amount might be.
Shortly after the messaging began, the Defendant asked our client to pay her a small sum of money via PayPal so that she could visit a beauty salon before she meets him for the first time. After some resistance, our client agreed to transfer a small amount of money to the Defendant via PayPal. This was a significant error on his part because the PayPal payment allowed the Defendant to work out who he was. Soon after he transferred her payment via paypal, the Defendant started to blackmail him.
She commenced a campaign of extortion against our client, who due to his high profile in the entertainment business, felt he had no alternative but to pay her whenever sums of money she demanded. He had paid more than $175,000 in a straightforward case of blackmail.
To get rid of someone who is blackmailing you, you need to find out who they are, or make them believe that you are at least very close to finding out who they are.
For a period of nearly 6 months, our client was unable to track down the true identity of the person who blackmailed him. To help him track down the identity of the blackmailer he hired the services of private detective firms and sought advice from his regular high-profile international lawyers but to no avail. Internet law is a specialist area of law, which requires an overall understanding of issues which go far beyond pure legal matters.
Unfortunately for him, he was (wrongly) advised by his then lawyers that if he was to use the legal system to try and track down the Defendant or to try and stop the extortion, the facts of the case, as well as his identity would be made public. This was of course, something that our client was very keen to avoid. Any publicity of this affair could have devastated his career, his reputation and possibly would have brought to the fore other incidents involving his relationships with other women.
It is usually possible to find an IP address of anonymous messages, provided you use the right cybersecurity tools. In some cases you can attach a tracking cookie to the email which is sent by the victim and when the blackmailer replies to the email, they will reveal with that email, a lot of information about themselves.
Eventually, after our lawyer Yair Cohen was recommended to our client by a colleague, we moved quickly to find the IP address of the Defendant, through scores of anonymous messages she had exchanged with her victim. If you want to find out the IP address of an anonymous message, you need to call into play high tech intelligence tools. The IP address is then likely to provide a location and other information, which would make it possible to track down your blackmailer.
To stop sextortion and any other internet form of extortion or blackmail, you will need to create a strategy that will completely remove from the blackmailer the incentive to continue to blackmail you.
In this sugar daddy blackmail case, Yair Cohen advised the Claimant on a unique process, which would enable him to serve a privacy injunction on the Defendant, and at the same time remain completely anonymous. Our client’s goal of course, was not to obtain a privacy injunction but rather to stop the extortion and to ensure that the information about this affair will never become public. The privacy injunction was only an instrument to help him achieve his goal.
To give him a lifetime peace of mind, that his name will never be made public through court documents, and to ensure that the Defendant will never have it in her interest to tell a “kiss and tell” story, the case had to be prepared carefully. We needed a case that would not only stop the extortion with a privacy injunction, and which would also protect our client’s identity and at the same time disincentivise the Defendant from ever talking about the case to anyone.
Our special enquiries revealed that the Defendant was in receipt of state benefits (dole) whilst she was extorting our client, which meant that she was committing the criminal offence of benefit fraud, in addition to the blackmail. Further enquiries revealed that the Defendant was a single mother, which meant a prison sentence will see her young child being taken away from her.
Once you have identified the Defendant, you will often need to wait until the next time you receive a demand for payment. Nearly always, this will be accompanied with a timetable for you to adhere to the demand and pay the extortion money. In may cases, the blackmailer will give you 48 hours to pay, which is just about enough time to prepare and have granted an emergency privacy injunction against her.
After receiving the next extortion demand from the Defendant, we prepared an application for a privacy injunction and had it granted within 24 hours. The hearing took place ex parte, which means the Defendant had no idea of what was going on. Later that evening, she heard a knock on the door. She was duly served with the privacy injunction and was gently warned about the consequences of breaching it. She was also made aware of the fact that if the authorities found out that she was in receipt of large sums of money, whilst claiming income support and other state benefits, she would be likely to find herself sent to prison.
Often, women who commit extortion on websites such as SeekingArrangements.com, do so anonymously by using a pseudonym, a fake picture and perhaps a distorted IP address. Initially they take every possible step to conceal their own identity and use various bank accounts in order to avoid suspicion due to the large sum of monies they extort. As time go by, they become more comfortable and less careful.
The website SeekingArrangements.com will usually refuse to co-operate when asked to hand over IP addresses of blackmailers or any other identifying information about its users or members. To bypass this issue, it is possible to obtain a court order to direct the SeekingArrangement.com website to disclose the ID of the blackmailer. Victims of extortion are often too scared to take this route as it does not by itself guarantee any particular outcome, whilst there is a risk that the blackmailer will be alerted by the website operators that they are being chased. This could cause the blackmailer to disclose the private information as a final showdown before disappearing into thin air.
Tracing the ID of someone who commits a sugar daddy blackmail case on SeekingArrangement.com or any type of extortion on a similar website, requires careful planning, a great deal of experience and the correct cybersecurity tools. To trace the identity of a blackmailer we would usually ask a victim to work with us through various communications with the blackmailer until we are able to track down the blackmailer IP address and often her full name and physical address. There is a great deal of sensitive detective work involved in tracing the identity of a blackmailer on a dating site, which must be handled sensitively.
In cases of blackmail, it is common in both criminal and civil courts for the victims to be anonymised. Were it otherwise, the very process intended to protect the victim becomes the means of giving publicity to that which the blackmailer is threatening to reveal. However, through the criminal justice process, the victim’s information is likely to be handled by too many people and could be leaked very easily.
A criminal trial of the blackmailer will be a public event, which means the risk of disclosure of the private information would increase. We therefore recommend that victims of blackmail on a dating website consider taking out an injunction via the civil courts as opposed to having the police and the Crown Prosecution Service trying to track down the blackmailer with a view of prosecuting them in the criminal courts.
The ordinary principle is that justice is administered in public. Nonetheless, the common law recognised that there were circumstances where adhering to that general principle would itself defeat the administration of justice. The Civil Proceedings Rules allow certain type of hearings to be heard in private, which means that the identity of the victim of the blackmail will only be known to the judge and to the victim’s lawyers. This is because publicity would defeat the object of the hearing which involves confidential information.
It is possible in cases of blackmail and extortion on a dating website to conduct a hearing and have injunctions granted without the Defendant being notified of the hearing. This is because if the blackmailer was given notice, there is the risk that she would do exactly what she had threatened to do and disclose to the Claimant’s family and to the entire world that the Claimant was using a dating website such as SeekingArrangements.com
In situations of blackmail, the Claimant would usually bring a claim on two bases, namely, misuse of private information and harassment.
Misuse of private information requires the court to consider two matters. First, whether this is information in which the Claimant has a reasonable expectation of privacy and second, whether the reasonable expectation of privacy outweighs the Defendant’s right to free speech.
In cases of extortion on a dating website, the facts that the Claimant communicated with the Defendant regarding entering into a sugar daddy agreement, the content of any emails or WhatsUp messages as well as any other communications between them, will constitute in most cases information to which the Claimant has a reasonable expectation to privacy. In addition, the fact that the Claimant is a victim of blackmail and information regarding that is also something he has a reasonable expectation that will remain private.
Blackmail is also a criminal offence (Theft Act 1968 s.21) but it is not a civil wrongdoing which means it cannot be a ground standing on its own to take out an injunction in civil proceedings, hence there is reason why a claim for harassment is needed because blackmail is also an act of harassment, which causes the victim to feel harassed and distressed.