Money Talks, So Should You

Crisis Button: I'm being threatened with blackmail? What should I do?

George Chidi
by George Chidi, Dimespring Contributor

It's the corporate executives, media stars and government officials that come to mind when we think about the threat of extortion over shady business deals, compromising pictures or illicit affairs — we're looking at you, Mr. Petraeus. But the threat might be a bit more common than that, when you think about what goes on occasionally in a rough divorce.

If you are on the receiving end of a blackmail threat, you're probably past the point at which you can expect things to simply go away. After talking with people who've dealt with extortion, some clear advice emerges.

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First, keep records of everything. “With technology today, we always have an electronic fingerprint,” said M. Colin Bresee, a Denver defense attorney who represented basketball star Chris Anderson when he was being extorted by a blackmailer last year. “If it's a cell phone call or calls, write down the date and time of the call, and get your phone record. If it's a text, don't delete the text. If it's an email, print out the email.”

You need these records because you're going to the cops. Fast.

It's critical to be first to the cops, particularly if you are dealing with a professional. Trying to trap the blackmailer and turn the tables yourself is probably a bad idea.

“The problem you run into is that when an extortion goes wrong, the person trying to extort very quickly will turn around and claim to be the victim,” Bresee said. 

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This, assuming the fellow doesn't simply shoot you and take off for Belize.

Go immediately to the police, Bresee said. “The reason is, the person who goes to the police first is generally the one the police believe.”

Broadly, if you're on the receiving end of a threat, you have no means to guarantee that your assailant will ever stop threatening you.

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“If you are dealing with a professional, they are much better at this than you will ever be! If you're not sure, err on the side of caution and go to law enforcement,” he said.

Depending on what kind of dirt your tormentor has on you, the amount of embarassment or legal liability you're facing is going to make this a tough moment for you. That said, you're beyond the moment of making a decision about fighting exposure or not. You are exposed. It's out, whatever ”it” is.

This is a moment to be honest with yourself, and with the police. “Usually, everyone has a little bit of dirt under their fingernails. Admitting your flaws is better than being charged with providing false information to the police,” Bresee said. “Law enforcement will find out the truth eventually.”

As will whoever doesn't want the information to get out. So it's probably best to prepare yourself — and the people who will learn the truth of the matter.

George Chidi is a journalist and researcher in suburban Atlanta. George has covered crime, politics, technology and business over a 16-year career, most recently with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a growth, crime and general assignment reporter.